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Growing Award Winning Pumpkins in Higganum

By Kathy Brown.

Jack O’Lanterns. Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin spice everything. Fall makes you think of pumpkins. And Ryan Cleveland, of Higganum, grows pumpkins, or should I say PUMPKINS?!?

2019 pumpkin still in the patch

Ryan and his wife Chelsea only started growing giant pumpkins three years ago. Ryan had grown pumpkins when he was a child, and decided to try again as an adult. “I love being in the patch and teaching my girls as I go,” Ryan said. They grow other vegetables as well, even attempting a giant tomato this year.

The plants — Atlantic Giants — get started indoors in March. The plants then get transferred outside near the end of April, into a very large screen house (approximately 50’x64′), which protects the plants from varmints and other damage. It isn’t just a matter of moving the plants though. Ryan spends many hours preparing the ground by putting in heating cables and making hoop houses, which will protect the small plants from freezing. He also gets his soil tested each year, and then gives the soil whatever it needs: calcium or nitrogen or compost. He only plants four plants, and each plant only grows one pumpkin. He doesn’t leave anything to chance though. When the main vine is approximately 15 feet long, he pollinates the pumpkin by taking a male flower and dusting all of the pollen off onto the female flower; that way he can control the genetics of the color and size, for example. Then he removes all the other blossoms and pumpkins so that all of the nutrients on that plant goes to just the one pumpkin.

2018 pumpkin at the Durham Fair

The pumpkins require a lot of sunlight, “the more the better,” said Ryan. He also feeds it according to the soil test. “As the season progresses,” Ryan explained, “a pumpkin can grow an average of 40-50 pounds a day!” Currently, he has three pumpkins growing, all measuring over 1000 pounds. The biggest pumpkin he has grown previously (2018) was 905.5. That pumpkin won second place at the Durham Fair in 2018. It also won the Howard Dill Award (given for the prettiest pumpkin). This year, he will enter at the Durham Fair, as well as two weigh offs in Topsfield, MA and Frerichs Farm in RI.

Not only does Ryan enter his pumpkins at the Durham Fair, but he and his wife also run the giant pumpkin exhibit at the Fair. Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 is the weigh off day, between 2:00-8:00 p.m. On Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28 they will have a professional pumpkin carver at the Fair.

And the Fair isn’t the end. The seeds are taken out of the pumpkin, washed off, sprayed with peroxide, then placed in a window screen with a fan until they are dry. After they are completely dry, they are stored in the freezer until next year, when the whole process starts all over again!

If you go to the Durham Fair, as many of our residents do, drop by the giant pumpkin exhibit and check out Higganum’s great pumpkin!

Photo in the field: Ryan Cleveland. Photo from 2018 Durham Fair: Kathy Brown.

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