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Frankenpumpkin?: Growing a One-Ton Pumpkin

Frankenpumpkin?: Growing a One-Ton Pumpkin

 

Gardeners are trying to grow the great pumpkin, a gourd that will top the current world record of 1,810 pounds. At their disposal are new technologies including growth hormone and dual grafting. But the race to grow a one-ton pumpkin looks a little disturbing, at a time when people are questioning how good genetically modified Frankenfood really is for us.

Don Young of Iowa spends $8,000 a year in his quest to grow the biggest pumpkin. The technological methods employed are impressive:

Mr. Young has set state pumpkin records in both Iowa and California — in 2009 Conan O’Brien smashed one of his giant pumpkins on television with a monster truck — and he is a leading figure among those who are fashioning new growing practices. He has invented a grafting technique, for instance, that pushes the food and energy of two pumpkin plants into a single fruit. Other top pumpkin competitors are experimenting with ZeoPro, a synthetic cocktail of supernutrients developed by NASA to grow lettuce and other edible plants in space.

Growers also use PPFM (or pink-pigmented facultative methylotrophs), a pink powdered bacteria that converts the pumpkin plant’s methane into a natural growth hormone found in seaweed, and feed their gourds a “brew” of worm castings, molasses and liquid kelp. Young’s dual grafting technique involves fusing two young pumpkin sprouts:

To explain, he crouched in the dirt, pointing to a double stump that he grafted together in his kitchen last winter. Each stump is the size of a beefy forearm, and the root systems bring in twice the nutrients.

“They told me it couldn’t be done, they told me that for years,” said Mr. Young, who had to sacrifice 300 pumpkin seeds before he discovered the best way to fuse two young pumpkin sprouts. He borrowed a surgical knife from a hog farmer to shave the stems and then clipped them together with hair barrettes. Soon he and his wife, Julie, had to avoid knocking over pots and heat lamps spread around the kitchen counters.

Certainly it puts those of us who pick our pumpkins from a vine at a pumpkin patch (or out of a sagging cardboard bin at the local supermarket) to shame. Of course, those supermarket pumpkins probably have had their share of less-than-natural products sprayed and applied to them. The modern pumpkin-picker prefers a gourd that is perfectly round, smooth and the same orange all over, without bumps and blemishes. Reading about Young’s efforts and  those of other members of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth can give one the inkling for planting some pumpkin seeds in the backyard come next spring.

Last summer, reports of exploding watermelons — Chinese farmers had given them too much growth hormone — appalled American consumers. Young describes one of his mega-size pumpkins doing exactly the same, breaking open after being “juiced up” on too much “brew.” Is growing a one-ton “Frankenpumpkin” not so much of a stupendous gardening feat, but yet another a sign of how technology is changing nature in potentially monstrous ways?

 

Related Care2 Coverage

Genetically-Engineered Canola Goes Wild Across North Dakota

Golden Rice and Other GMO Fairy Tales

Chinese Watermelons Exploding From Too Much Growth Hormone

Mandatory GMO Labeling Could Be On 2012 Ballot In California

 

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87 comments

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6:30AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

Happily barmy. Thank you.

5:26AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

wow

2:46AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

Thank you :)

8:20PM PST on Dec 10, 2011

Yikes ... talk about over doing it!

8:50AM PDT on Oct 17, 2011

seems a bit extreme just to keep neighborhood kids from smashing your pumpkin in the street?

8:55PM PDT on Oct 16, 2011

Ooookay. Curiouser and curiouser.

6:33PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

What a waste of money that could be better spent to help a cause or people.

5:35PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

I love pumpkins and this giant ones are lovely reminders of childhood trips to the pumpkin patch... but knowing they are absolutely worthless (can't eat the giants) and such a waste of resources (esp. water) and money... I just don't see the point of trying to make them bigger... unless you are planning on living in it. ;)

3:12PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

Seems like generally a waste of time and energy to me. I would be more impressed if someone had created something edible that could sustain a human or an animal. Not just a weighty show piece that makes someone burst with pride..because "mine's bigger than yours is!!!"
Now there might be some growers out there that have done it all naturally from start to finish, with no hormones...and have created something large that is nourishing and tasty too. I tip my hat to them, if that's the case.

6:32PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

At one of our Fall Festivals here in Rhode Island, we had a pumpkin tip the scales at 1,661 lbs. While it did not break a record, the gentleman that entered it raised it from a seed!

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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