Brigham City gardener striving for a 1,000 pound pumpkin

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Ross Bowman of Brigham City says raising a 1,000-pound pumpkin is on his bucket list.

Larry Sagers

If there is something large and orange and growing over the neighbor's fence, it might be the new record breaker for the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers (UGPG) contest for Utah.

Each year this group of dedicated growers gathers to weigh the fruits of their labors. The huge, fleshy fruits will likely be well over 1,000 pounds.

I visited one grower's patch in Brigham City to see how his crop was progressing. Ross Bowman, a retired rocket scientist, started this hobby later in his life.

He has always been an avid gardener and grew up on the family farm in Blackfoot, Idaho.

"My mother was the general who saw that things got done," he said. "She got everything plowed and harrowed, and I still plant the way she taught me to plant."

"I went to college so I would not have to go back to the farm. But I found after graduating I was always itching to get back to the soil," he said.

He gained a quick realization in how important soil was when he asked a neighbor if he could use the vacant lot next to him for a garden. The neighbor agreed and so Bowman went to work.

He explained that he is a person who learns by doing, and he quickly learned that a good garden needs good soil.

His first challenge was overcoming the weed killer the neighbor had put down to control the undesirable plant growth.

"For the first two to three years I could not get anything to grow. The corn would not grow well and the cucumbers were a failure. I kept on planting, and then the Scouts had a project to haul manure to local gardens. That made a big difference, so I kept that up until they quit doing it."

He still brings in tons of organic matter and now gets the composted products from the city. He figures it was at about the 250 ton mark that he finally turned the corner and had the soil like he wants it.

I asked him how he got interested in growing giant pumpkins.

"I was with my brother at the Eastern Idaho State Fair and saw a squash that weighed 667 pounds that a dentist had grown in Rexburg. I told my brother that if he could grow one that big there, I could grow a bigger one in Brigham City."

"I ordered my first seed and paid eight dollars for it. I bought a few more seeds and that brought my total to 64 dollars. My pumpkin patch went wild, but I did not prune them and I did not thin them so they were not going to win the contest."

He knew he needed help, so he bribed Gordon Tanner, a UGPG member, with dinner at Maddox restaurant if he would come to his house.

Bowman claims it was the best money he ever spent.

"He came up and spent several hours with me and showed me how to prune the plants and how to thin the fruits and take care of them better. I am not really looking to beat anyone else out, but I do want to raise a 1,000 pound pumpkin. That is on my bucket list."

"The club (UGPG) is very open and helpful. They will help you find a solution to any problem you might have. They are really a good bunch of men and women. Everything I have learned about pumpkins I can transfer to my flowers and vegetables."

Bowman's four contenders this year are carefully planned and tended to help him achieve his goal. He credits the UGPG with his success as evidenced by his seed source.

"Two of my seeds came from Matt McConkie's pumpkin, last year's winner, which was 1,169 pounds. Another is from Andrew Israelson's runner-up from last year. The fourth is a Werner pumpkin from back East, which weighed 1,446 pounds."

In addition to all of his work with the soil, he also is a strong advocate of fertilizing his plants. He built an injector system and fertilizes frequently.

"I use fish emulsion on Monday and seaweed tea on Wednesday, and I use Peter's 20-20-20. In the early spring I used a freeze-dried molasses that I put on the soil to wake up the microorganisms."

I asked him about his biggest challenges and he explained that it was getting the plants and the pumpkins through the last two weeks.

Diseases and insects are a major challenge. He controls the disease with copper- and sulfur-based fungicides and uses a vegetable oil and soap based fungicide for insect control.

Does he have the winner? Time will tell because the winner is only declared after the weights are declared at the official weigh off

There just might be a new record-breaking pumpkin this year.

Garden tips and events

The Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-off is Saturday, Sept. 24, at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. Registration starts at 8 a.m., with judging at 11 a.m. The weigh-off starts at noon. Register online at www.utahpumpkingrowers.com.

Wasatch Community Garden's Pumpkinfest is Saturday, Sept. 24, 1-8 p.m., at the Sandy Garden, 500 E. 8880 South.

Red Butte Garden is hosting a seed collecting workshop on Saturday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m.-noon. Bring sharp hand pruners. Cost is 18 for members and $23 for nonmembers. Registration is required at 801-587-5433 or 801-581-6464 or www.lifelong.utah.edu.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.

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