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Pumpkin seeds are the stuff of big dreams for ambitious local growers

Giant variety should be planted this month in preparation for Community Festival contest
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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You’ve got to be crazy to do it, according to garden guru Don Yamasaki, but this week pumpkin enthusiasts will begin their months-long journey to glory. It’s that time of year to start planting giant pumpkin seeds in anticipation of the heaviest pumpkin contest at the Auburn Community Festival Oct. 18. Growing a giant pumpkin is a very involved process and one that doesn’t allow for a vacation, Yamasaki said. Yamasaki signs on as the garden guru on KAHI 950 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. every Saturday. The process begins this week when pumpkin farmers plant their seeds into what must be “the best soil possible,” Yamasaki said. He recommends using a lot of organic compost to cultivate the soil. He also said the Atlantic Grant varieties of seeds should be planted in well-drained soil. Growers then spend time devising an intricate watering schedule. Some have paid to install in-ground sprinkler and misting systems. Yamasaki said that growing a large pumpkin also means keeping the soil well fertilized from start to finish, and pumpkin contest competitors “do all kinds of things.” “I tell you it’s a sickness, but they do it just to grow that big pumpkin,” Yamasaki said. Ophir’s Randy Warren can attest to that mentality. Warren has been competing in the Auburn Community Festival pumpkin contest since the beginning of the event more than 10 years ago. He said he started out with free seeds he picked up at the Auburn Journal. Originally it was a way to spend some time with his son, and now his daughter, Audrey May, helps out, too. To help nurture his pumpkins, Warren uses an automated water system, a complex pre-seeding ritual and lots of tender love and care, he said. “I’ve gotten into it deeper, more than the average person in town,” Warren said. This year Yamasaki will again be a judge at the contest. Last year, the festival awarded the $1,500 grand prize to a 1,002.5-pound pumpkin grown by Portola Valley’s Eric Carlson. What’s the largest pumpkin Warren’s grown? “Not big enough,” he said. So far he’s topped out at about 810 pounds. This year he will try a new watering technique and different soil. He said he plans to plant his seed around the middle to the end of this month. As the judge, Yamasaki said the color of a pumpkin is very important. If the plant is too green, then it can be considered a squash. The most important evaluation comes when Yamasaki check to make sure there are no holes or breaks in the pumpkin’s skin. For those looking to catch pumpkin-growing fever this year, the Auburn Journal is offering free pumpkin seeds later this month. The seeds will be available at the Downtown Auburn office, 1030 High St. This year’s prize money is $1,500 for first place for the giant pumpkin. Total pumpkin prize money exceeds $4,800, which includes prizes in the youth category, according to Barbara Jicha, one of the community festival coordinators. Jicha added that there’s an additional $500 prize for the heaviest pumpkin grown in Placer County, so the first-place winner could win up to $2,000. Yamasaki said he doesn’t think the amount will truly influence diehard pumpkinites. “I really don’t think it’s the prize money that attracts them,” Yamasaki said, “It’s the challenge.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com. -------- -- Competitors in the heaviest pumpkin contest at the Auburn Community Festival should be planting their seeds in the middle to end of this month -- Experts recommend that planters use well-drained, organic soil -- Free Atlantic Grant pumpkin seeds will be available later this month at the Auburn Journal office, located in Downtown Auburn at 1030 High St. -- Pumpkin prizes: This year’s prize money is $1,500 for first place for the giant pumpkin Total pumpkin prize money exceeds $4,800, which includes prizes in the youth category There’s an additional $500 prize for the heaviest pumpkin grown in Placer County, so the first-place winner could win up to $2,000 -- Past pumpkin winners: – 2000 — Ken Mitchell of Elk Grove — 669.5 lbs – 2001 — Nathan Fry of Ophir — 608 lbs — Placer County record – 2002 — Overall — Greg Stucker of Napa — 782.5 lbs – 2003 — Overall — Amber Fry of Newcastle — 948 lbs – 2004 — Nathan Fry — 849 lbs – 2005 – Leonardo Urena of Napa 1,001 pounds – 2006 – Steve Fry 819 pounds – 2007 – Eric Carlson 1,002.5 – 2008 – ?