Photo of: Jennifer Compston Strough
Records were broken again in Barnesville on Wednesday night when a Pennsylvania grower delivered the heaviest specimen ever entered the King Pumpkin Weigh-Off.
Eric Gunstrom and his family watched closely as Barnesville Pumpkin Festival officials put their massive pumpkin on the official scale, which found it to be worth 2,405 pounds. Festival president and event announcer Tim Rockwell said the massive, orange squash set a site record as well as the record for the heaviest squash ever grown in Pennsylvania. It also surpassed the Ohio state record of 2,195 pounds set last year by Dillonvale King Pumpkin breeder Jeff Theil.
Gunstrom said he’s been coming to the Barnesville Festival for several years and has been a top three producer for three years in a row – 2010, 2011 and 2012. In fact, his 10-year-old daughter wasn’t even born yet when he was last placed among the top finishers. Today, she and her older brother help their parents with the family pumpkin patch.
“It’s just something we love to do as a family,” Gunstrom said.
For the past month, he said, he and his family have been spending at least 30 hours a week in their garden bed, providing their pumpkins with plenty of fresh water and tending them carefully, wiping dirt and pollen off their surfaces with a cotton cloth. More recently, however, he said he spent several days at camp with his daughter and somehow neglected the patch. He thought this might have contributed to their success.
“It gave me a good mojo — good luck — spending time with my kid at camp,” he said.
Gunstrom said it’s only in the last few years that it’s become possible to grow a truly gigantic pumpkin that’s also a gorgeous shade of orange. In the past, he said, genetics simply didn’t allow giant squashes to retain this classic color. Today, he carefully selects the genetics of his plants to ensure both the color and weight he hopes to achieve are possible.
He said the keys to success are weather, providing plenty of water (although his wife isn’t happy about the water bill at this time of year) and lots of hard work. To maintain a pumpkin’s beauty, the family is careful not to even touch the fruit for the first 25 days of growth. In this way they help to ensure that the delicate skin is not damaged.
According to 2022 weigh-in results, listed on the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth website late Wednesday, this year’s heaviest pumpkin weighed 2,359 pounds before the weigh-in in Barnesville, which appeared to break that mark.
Among Wednesday’s other top finishers were:
– Dave and Carol Stelts of Enon Valley, Pennsylvania at 2,069 pounds
– Todd and Donna Skinner from Barnesville at 2,068 pounds
– Bill Neptune of New Concord, Ohio at 1,795 pounds
– Rick Kisamore of Atwater, Ohio at 1,562 pounds
– Brant and Liz Powell from Barnesville at 1,102 pounds