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Joe Ailts, president of the St. Croix Growers Association, is bringing this beauty to Stillwater Harvest Fest on Oct. 13 to compete in the first-annual “Howard Dill Prettiest Pumpkin” contest. Ailts is growing this giant pumpkin at his patch in Deer Lake, Wis. Courtesy of Joe Ailts

Southeast Minnesota festival may set world record with big pumpkins

STILLWATER, Minn. — The Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers better watch out.

With just a few days to go before the pumpkin weigh-off Saturday, Oct. 13, at Stillwater Harvest Fest, festival organizers and local growers are gunning for another world record.

The record would not be for an individual pumpkin, but for the average weight of the festival's top 10 pumpkins.

Chris Stevens believes he and his 12-year-old daughter are growing one of those top 10 in their backyard in New Richmond, Wis.

Stevens knows of what he speaks. He's the grower who set a world record with his 1,810-pound pumpkin at the Harvest Fest in 2010.

"I'm very confident and know enough that I expect us to have our biggest top 10 ever," Stevens said.

The current top 10 record — held by the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers — was set Oct. 14, 2017, at Parks Garden Center in Canfield, Ohio. The club's top 10 pumpkins had an average weight of 1,825 pounds.

Joe Ailts, president of the St. Croix Growers Association, said Wednesday that he has been talking to growers and doing the math.

"We've got two pumpkins in Wisconsin that could threaten the 1-ton milestone, and we have a very strong potential for a new Minnesota state record, as well as a legit shot at breaking the North Dakota state record, which currently stands at 1,659 pounds," he said. "These fruit alone — not to mention the two to three surprises that inevitably pop out of the woodwork — should set us up for a potential world record."

The grower of the heaviest pumpkin at Saturday's weigh-in will win $5,000.

Stevens and his daughter, Amber, aren't in the running, he said.

"We had a bear attack ours last month," he said. "There are claw marks the size of my hand on it, and it's got six holes that are about an inch or so deep."

The father-daughter pair have jury-rigged a fan to blow on the deepest hole "to keep the pumpkin from developing rot," he said. "The hole is really big and open. I'm doing whatever I can to keep it dry because rot is disqualification."

The current pumpkin world record is held by Mathias Willemijns of Deurle, Belgium, who grew a 2,624.6-pound pumpkin in 2016.

"It's 2,600 crazy pounds," Stevens said. "It wasn't that big; it was just freakishly heavy."

In addition to being freakishly heavy, giant pumpkins grow in strange, bulbous shapes and aren't always orange. Pretty? Not really.

But winners of prettiest-giant-pumpkin contests at weigh-offs around the Upper Midwest have been invited to bring their award-winning fruit to Stillwater on Saturday to participate in Harvest Fest's first-annual "Howard Dill Prettiest Pumpkin" contest.

The award is named for the late Howard Dill, of Windsor, Nova Scotia, who is considered the "founding father" of giant-pumpkin growing, Ailts said.

"He is the lone pioneer who bred the original Atlantic Giant pumpkins back in the late '70s, early '80s," Ailts said. "He was the genetic engineer of all of the giant pumpkins that have come after his great work."

The prettiest pumpkins will be judged primarily on color, with size and symmetry also taken into consideration, said Ailts, of Deer Park, Wis., who is bringing his own "very large, very orange, very symmetrical" giant pumpkin to Stillwater to compete in the contest.

The growers of the prettiest giant pumpkins will compete for bragging rights, a traveling trophy and a $500 cash prize, Ailts said.

"We will have no less than four pretty-pumpkin award winners on display," Ailts said. "These are the best of the best when it comes to picture-perfect giant pumpkins. It should be a sight to behold."