Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

It’s my favorite time of the year! Well, I shouldn’t speak for ALL of Farm Supply, but this one representative cannot wait until October 15th. I know what you are thinking, that’s not Halloween…

October 15th is the next best thing, Farm Supply’s 10th Annual Great Pumpkin and Scarecrow Contest. That’s the day Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo is filled with families, fun, and VERY LARGE PUMPKINS. These pumpkins are so large they must be placed by forklift for display. They can weigh anywhere from 100 to 1000 pounds, depending on weather conditions, and the expertise of the grower. They’re big, they’re orange, and they have been carefully cultivated  since the spring. I consulted California Bountiful for some technical information regarding growing large pumpkins, as my knowledge consists of knowing they exist and admiring their orange-ness. So, I visited http://californiacountry.org/features/article.aspx?arID=513 and got some great info:

It’s a fun project whether you top 200 pounds or get near that elusive 2,000 pounds. So next time you visit the local nursery, stop at the seed rack and look for giant pumpkin seeds.

First of all, make sure you have plenty of room. Giant pumpkin vines can gobble up 800 square feet in a few months.

Using a nail file, file down the edge of the seed just a bit to nick the seed coat. This is to break the protective coating so moisture can enter the seed and signal it to germinate. In the race for giant pumpkins, even a head start of a day or two can make a big difference in the eventual size of the pumpkin.

If the weather cooperates and is sunny and mild, you can sow the seeds directly in the ground where they will grow. I like to plant them on small mounds.

Or you can start seeds indoors. Lay them between two moist paper towels and put them someplace warm. If you don’t have heating mats for starting seeds, put them on top of the refrigerator. Check them regularly and don’t let the paper towels dry out. In a few days you’ll see a root coming out of the seed. Now you can plant the seeds in a pot filled with planting mix. It should germinate within another week. When the seedling gets its second set of leaves (these are actually the true leaves), put the plant in the ground where it will grow.pumpkinblog1

Wow, that is a lot of work. Our contestants labor for months growing their entries. We have several categories to compete in:

  • Heaviest
  • Most Beautiful
  • Heaviest 4-H/FFA
  • Most Unusual
  • Heaviest 12 & under
  • Carved Adult
  • Carved Youth

The “carved” categories are new this year and I am anxiously awaiting  to view their uniqueness and artistry.


Dr. Joe Sabol and Cara Crye

I spoke with Steve Knudsen, currently the Community Outreach & Development Coordinator for the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and originator of the contest. I was curious how our contest came to be. He explained that while serving as the Outreach Coordinator for the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, he was presenting at an event where he needed some “handouts”. Typically, he would pass out pens or notebooks, but he came up with a wonderful idea…hand out seeds to grow your own vegetables! What a great notion, a chance to summon the farmer in those who may not be familiar with agriculture. Pumpkin seeds were the choice, and that led him to dream up a contest for those who planted their seeds. Genius! So after some research visiting a contest in San Mateo County, the SLO County Great Pumpkin Contest was born. Ten years later, under the direction of Farm Supply, and organizer Cara Crye, we are still going strong. Cara, a Cal Poly graduate says,  “I love bringing agriculture to downtown SLO, the Great Pumpkin Contest is the perfect vehicle to provide our community with an evening of fun, facts, and sharing of our passion of agriculture.” Cara is Farm Supply’s Vice-President of Communications, a job she does with knowledge, enthusiasm, and a huge smile. Her inspiration and mentor is Dr. Joe Sabol, affectionately known to hundreds of  Cal Poly students and graduates as “Dr. Joe” He is a retired Ag Education Professor from Cal Poly SLO, but as busy as he is, you wouldn’t know “retirement” is in his vocabulary. Dr. Sabol brings his own unique energy, excitement, and love for growing things to our event. This writer can attest to the power that Dr. Joe can bring to anything he touches, the best description is well… magical.  Cara even went as far to say, that when Dr. Joe decides to hang up his hat and retire from this event, its future at that point, is questionable. This blogger doesn’t think so, as Cara is more like Dr. Joe than she thinks, and I believe her magic will be enough to carry on.

Wow, you would have thought by my previous paragraph I was talking about something other than pumpkins! But no joke, these people are genuine about their fervor for agriculture, and that’s why our contest is able to showcase a lot of hard work, pride of growing your own pumpkin, and displaying it for all to see.  This is a feel good event, but is also serious pumpkin business, as there are some prizes to be won, a total of $3,000 to be exact. Also, San Luis Obispo County’s Weights and Measures Department is there using a giant scale to weigh these giant pumpkins, I don’t know how much more legit that can make it! County certified! Many other groups and businesses help to make it possible as well, and we are grateful for all of their support.

So please, come on down to Mission Plaza on Thursday October 15th, to share in some local fun and maybe you will inspired to grow something in your backyard. That would make Dr. Joe smile!



Steve Knudsen & Pam Pickering

By Pam Pickering, proud employee of Farm Supply Company, a 2600 member cooperative in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.


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