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Giant pumpkin grower has big dreams

Richard Larson has his eyes on the prize at area competitions
By: Eileen Wilson gold country news service
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It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown — five great pumpkins, to be exact. When it comes to growing great pumpkins, Richard Larson has the skills. A balance of soil pH, nutrients, and perfectly amended earth helps. But it’s a blend of science, nature and luck that gets the fabulous fruit to reach full potential. “Extra large pumpkins are created by cross pollinating plants with blossoms from award-winning pumpkin plants,” Larson said. “But really, it’s all about the seeds.” According to Larson, the world-record pumpkin is from Canada, and weighed in at a whopping 1,677 pounds — a size he hopes to emulate this year. It’s hard to imagine just how behemoth Larson’s pumpkins are — the size of small cars. He never misses a day tending his overgrown orange babies. “I wake them up every morning, and cover them up every night,” he said of the blankets he uses to cover the mega monsters. Elephant-ear size leaves and vines the circumference of Larson’s arm fill the Granite Bay property that he has inhabited for the last five years. “I have an eighth of an acre here, but it’s all garden,” Larson said. “All the stalks and leaves are like an engine that drives the pumpkin. The pumpkin is grabbing energy from all the leaves.” But there are challenges. “I pluck all but one primary bud and spindle, because I want all the energy to go into just one pumpkin,” Larson said. In addition, he sterilizes the gardening equipment to make sure potential disease is nipped in the bud. “There are so many potential problems — a pumpkin can get vine rot, or worse case, it can burst,” Larson said, explaining that’s exactly what happened to a good friend’s crop this year. While Larson enjoys the growing, he has his eye on the prize. He will transport his giants to several competitions this month, hoping his pumpkins prove to be the biggest and the best. “I’m a pumpkin grower and I’m on a national standing,” he said. “I’ve never had a big winner — only fourth place.” The calculations to determine pumpkin size are complex. Larson expects to have 1,600 pounders, and at the height of their growth, they will gain a whopping 47 pounds per day. “I built my own tripod, and use a one-ton jack and a giant sling to lift them,” Larson said. “And one thing I’ve learned — you do not want to drive down the freeway with a giant pumpkin in the back of your truck. I have to cover the pumpkin up. Otherwise, I would be surrounded by cars, and people staring. It’s enough to cause a car accident.” A winning pumpkin will garner $5 or $6 per pound, and entrants may not enter a pumpkin in more than one competition. “When the competition is over, pumpkin brokers buy the pumpkins,” Larson said. “Last year Jackson Rancheria bought one. They carve it up — the pumpkin wall is over a foot thick, so they can make three dimensional carvings out of it.” Seeds are valuable, too. “People buy seeds from award-winning pumpkins so they can cultivate their own,” Larson said. Larson’s friend, Steven Lehr, is in awe of Larson’s pumpkin-growing facility and the ingenuity. “His operation is very high tech and impressive,” Lehr said. Larson, a real Renaissance man, wasn’t always interested in horticulture. A retired construction superintendent, his interest in growing pumpkins and collecting various gourds is an offshoot of a supernatural experience he had in a haunted Jamestown hotel a few years ago. “My interest in growing great pumpkins is steeped in history,” Larson said. “It goes back to Gold Rush times.” His encounter with a ghost, and a subsequent visit with a psychic encouraged him to grow pumpkins and gourds to ward off evil spirits. Larson has written a book about his date with the supernatural and his experience growing giant pumpkins. He describes it as non-fiction, with a little fiction thrown in. The book, “Life is but a Giant Pumpkin,” can be purchased at area harvest festivals or at rlarson1950 @yahoo.com. ------------ Auburn Community Festival If you want to see some big pumpkins — we’re talking 1,000-pounders — put the Auburn Community Festival on your calendar. Growers with the heftiest gourd claim a $1,500 prize ($500 more if it’s from Placer County). The scarecrow contest inspires some whimsical creations. Last year’s people’s choice winner was a nightmarish, 15-foot scarecrow ripping apart smaller straw men. There’s a costume contest, pumpkin decorating, kids’ play area and tasty fall treats, all under the charming oak trees of one of Auburn’s nicest parks. When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 Where: Recreation Park, 123 Recreation Drive in Auburn Info: www.auburn communityfestival.com Phone: (530) 885-8461 Cost: Free