- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - When Jim Ferguson and his wife, Barb, got rid of their horses, they figured they ought to do something with their empty, 28-acre lot.

Along with some apple trees, plums and peaches, the couple tried planting a few giant pumpkins on their land, which is just off of U.S. 34 by Owl Ridge.

The pumpkins have really stolen the show. The 40-by-40-foot patch is home to 16 pumpkins this year, some as tall as Jim Ferguson’s knees and too fat to wrap his arms around. In the eight years he has tried his hand at pumpkin growing, Ferguson’s personal record is 450 pounds - about the weight of an average-sized piano.

This year, Jim Ferguson said he suspects one has reached about 375 pounds. He doesn’t enter his pumpkins in weigh-offs or even look to sell his seeds. It’s just fun to do, he said.

Starting in May, when the pumpkins are planted as seedlings sprouted in the house, Ferguson heads out to the patch every other day to water and fertilize. He uses two giant troughs and a bucket to water them. Usually, he limits each vine to one pumpkin.

Some of the vines this season got wilt disease, but it didn’t spread, Ferguson said. The pumpkins were also hit with a freeze in mid-September, which gave some of the younger pumpkins frostbite. Those are now leaking orangey pus, lost early in the season to rot.

Last year, Ferguson said, his pumpkins were pummeled by the August hail storm.

“I couldn’t be a farmer,” he said. So much of their success depends on Mother Nature. “The stress would be too much.”

All year, friends and family are sure to ask the Fergusons how their pumpkins are doing. In early October, they have a little barbecue and invite friends and family to each take several hundred pounds of pumpkin home with them.

To load a pumpkin in the truck, they put it on a canvas sheet folded into quarters, Barb Ferguson said. A guy at each corner lifts the end. Sometimes, it takes more than four people.

“The old people sit in lawn chairs, and the young people lift pumpkins,” she said.

Of course, it takes a crane to lift the pumpkins that are brought to weigh-in contests. The world record was broken this year by Swiss gardener Beni Meier, who managed to get a 2,096-pound pumpkin to a contest in Germany. That weight is just a few hundred pounds shy of some cars.

Like those giant pumpkins, the Fergusons’ pumpkins look a little like a piece of round dough that melted into lopsided blobs under the sun.

Once their pumpkins hit a certain weight, gravity takes over, Barb Ferguson said.

That makes them a little tough to carve, so most of their family chooses only to display the pumpkins on their front porches for Halloween.

You’d practically have to take a chain saw to the larger ones to carve them, she said. The skin in 350-pound pumpkins is sometimes six inches thick.

Still, it can be done. The Fergusons know a woman in Timnath who likes the challenge.

Like his wife’s, Jim Ferguson’s explanation is simple for dedicating so much time to this giant fall squash.

He says it with a shrug, his plump pumpkins resting beside him beneath a deep autumn sun.

“We needed something to do.”

___

Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, https://greeleytribune.com

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