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Pumpkin growers relish the ultimate challenge

Preparations under way for Community Festival competition
By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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Dreams of growing a winning giant pumpkin are not just a lot of pie in the sky. When that several-hundred-pound fruit is offloaded by forklift onto the judging platform at the Auburn Community Festival, it represents months of dedicated gardening and, often, victory over the elements. Meadow Vista resident Keith Goodrich, last year’s second-place winner, can attest to that. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a big-time commitment,” he said recently. Goodrich’s garden produced an 879.5-pounder last year, winning him a $500 bonus for the heaviest pumpkin grown in Placer County. This year, he planted three pumpkins and estimates he put in one to two hours a day tending them during the growing season. That’s time spent pruning, adding fertilizers and watering. “Really, the big issues are shaping the plant as it is actively growing,” Goodrich said. “Weeding is a huge time-consumer. I like to keep all the weeds out the of the patch to minimize the competition for water and nutrients.” Then there were some problems. “We had quite a bad aphid infestation and mildew, which is common with the cucurbit family,” he said. His solution — ladybugs — didn’t work as well as he’d hoped. But Goodrich, a longtime gardener, stuck with it. “The pumpkins are ready now,” he said. “It is just a question of if they hold out.” As for the weight of this year’s crop, Goodrich wouldn’t venture a guess. But, aphids and all, he finds the effort very satisfying. “It’s just watching the pumpkins grow so rapidly and the interest the children and their friends have in being involved,” he said. “It kind of gets people in touch with what they can produce in the soil. They come to visit and get pretty excited about the potential to grow their own things.” In Granite Bay, Don Hermance is hoping to enter the contest, too. “This is my first year for doing it,” he said about growing a giant pumpkin. “It was up to about 220 (pounds) and then the stem split on me. There are so many things to learn about them.” Hermance received guidance and inspiration from Auburn resident and veteran pumpkin grower Randy Warren, a fixture at the yearly festival competition. Warren’s daughter, Audrey, took fourth place last year with a 706.5 pound giant. The Warrens have been featured in several Journal articles about pumpkin growing, but Randy asked to be excused this year because he did not to “jinx” his family’s efforts. For Hermance, the experience has been a lot of fun. “It’s me against Mother Nature,” he said. “I’ve lived here a long time and I’ve always gardened my whole life. I enjoy it. It’s my outlet.” Lately, if his wife is looking for him, chances are he’ll be tending the pumpkin, he said. “The plant grows a foot a day,” he said. “The pumpkins put on two or three inches a day in diameter. You can just about stand there and watch them grow — if you’ve got all your ducks in row. But you have to be out there every day doing something to them.” Weather-wise, this should be a good year for pumpkins, according to Don Yamasaki, host of KAHI’s weekly “Garden Guru” talk show and a judge for the Auburn Community Festival’s giant pumpkin contest since it began 12 years ago. “There have been lots of nice warm days and cool nights, but no heat wave in a long stretch either, and that’s a good thing,” Yamasaki said. “With the lack of extreme heat, it makes for great pumpkin-growing conditions. I think there are going to be some nice ones out there.” The Auburn Community Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, at Recreation Park. Yamasaki, the go-to expert on growing things, hasn’t tried his hand at giant pumpkins. But he enjoys viewing the results of others’ efforts. “I think it’s really exciting how people get involved in it. They get into it and want to grow the biggest pumpkin there is,” Yamasaki said. “I look forward every year to seeing what’s out there and what they bring in.”