It’s the Great Pumpkin, Mr. Wilmoth

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It’s not every day anyone sees someone driving a large pumpkin in a truck down the road.

This year, though, David Wilmoth found himself doing just that, driving his 351-pound pumpkin to the State Fair of Virginia to compete against other growers in the state.

Though Wilmoth works full time as a major at the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office, he finds enjoyment growing Atlantic Giant Pumpkin plants.

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This year, his pumpkin came in third place at the fair. It was pretty heavy, he said. He had to load it onto a pallet in his truck to carefully transport it to the fairgrounds in Richmond.

Usually, Wilmoth said, you need a forklift to pick it up, but this year the pumpkin was “small” enough to hand load.

DAVID WILMOTH David Wilmoth’s award-winning pumpkin came from this 900-square-foot plant.

David Wilmoth’s award-winning pumpkin came from this 900-square-foot plant.

Last year, Wilmoth said, the first-place pumpkin broke the state record at more than 1,200 pounds.

“That was obviously loaded with a tractor or a forklift,” he said.

Wilmoth is used to getting funny looks from people in other cars as he drives his pumpkin to the fair.

The process of growing a large pumpkin begins in May and ends 180 days later when the fruit is harvested to bring to the fair, where it is judged against other contenders based on weight.

During those 180 days, the plant will grow quickly. Wilmoth’s plant this year was 900 square feet with leaves about three times the size of his hand. He only grows one fruit per plant, so “the plant focuses its energy on that one pumpkin.”

Wilmoth said the whole plant can grow up to a foot and half in day and requires about 55 gallons of water each day. The fruit itself can put on as much as 50 pounds in a day.

”It’s a very temperamental plant,” he said, adding it takes a regimented care cycle to successfully grow the fruit to a competitive size. “It is fun. It’s kind of amazing to watch the plant grow that fast and to watch the fruit put on that much weight.”

DAVID WILMOTH Wilmoth’s giant pumpkin at 2 weeks old.

Wilmoth’s giant pumpkin at 2 weeks old.

Fun aside, it takes two hours of work a day to keep the plant growing. This includes time spent watering, applying fungicide and keeping pests away from the fruit.

“Everything likes to eat on the plant,” Wilmoth said, noting, of course, humans like to eat it, too.

“But, I don’t think it would be very good because (the breed is) crossed with a pumpkin and a giant squash.”

That’s how the plant was first started in the 1980s and through cross pollination over the years with different growers it’s developed into what it is, Wilmoth explained.

Though he grows pumpkins by himself, Wilmoth has connected with several growers throughout the state who also grow Giant Atlantic Pumpkins.

He got hooked three years ago when his friend, Mark Fowler, gave him a plant to try out.

In addition to winning third place at the fair, Wilmoth’s pumpkin was picked for a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion. Though Wilmoth wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because of the Vice Presidential Debate, Gov. Terry McAuliffe took a photograph with the pumpkin.

Next year, Wilmoth wants to come in first place and grow his pumpkin as big as it will go.

“It depends on luck, it depends on weather, it depends on so many different things,” he said.