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Wednesday, February 4, 2009


1,528-Pound Pumpkin Is Tops At Half Moon Bay Fest

Thad Starr's giant pumpkin really began putting on weight in August. A lot of weight.

The pumpkin gained about thirty pounds a day on its way to victory Monday at the 35th annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay.

Starr's pumpkin finished at 1,528 pounds, beating the contest record he set last year by four pounds.

"We really pamper them," Starr, 41, of Pleasant Hill, Oregon, said about the pumpkins he raises, adding that the secret to growing big pumpkins is good soil.

Starr, a stay-at-home dad, said he also sought advice from other growers in his area before growing and harvesting his winning pumpkin for the second year in a row.

Tim Beeman, a spokesman for the contest, said Starr's pumpkin was four feet, four inches tall with a circumference of about 15 feet.

Starr beat out dozens of other west coast growers from Washington, Oregon and California. Beeman said seven pumpkins came in at more than 1,000 pounds.

Forklifts were used to place the giant gourds on a 5-ton, industrial-strength scale. Starr said he bought a trailer to transport his giant gourd.

At $6 a pound for the winning pumpkin, Starr is taking home more than $9,000.

The giant gourd and other large pumpkins will be on display at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival on the city's historic Main Street this upcoming weekend, Oct. 18 and 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Beeman said Half Moon Bay holds the festival as the World Pumpkin Capital, producing more than 3,000 tons of pumpkins ever year and shipping them around the world.

"We're just bursting out in orange here," Beeman said.

Half Moon Bay boasts beautiful fall weather along with the pumpkin harvest-inspired food, decorations and activities, he said.

"The festival itself to me, I call it the feel good festival because everyone is happy and in a great festive mood," Beeman said.

Pumpkin pancakes, cheesecakes, pies and other goodies will be sold along with other food and drink during the festival, also famed for the pie eating contest, expert pumpkin carver, costume contest and variety of harvest-inspired arts and crafts.

With food, beverage, parking and games run by local non-profit and community groups, the festival is also a fundraiser. Beeman said the groups raise about $500,000 from operations during the pumpkin weekend.

"It's a very special event," Beeman said. "It means a lot to the community."

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Welcome to the Pumpkin Blog

The following is the story about the 1,524 from SFGate:

Thad Starr isn't afraid to show his emotions - even when they're directed toward a 1,524-pound squash.

The stay-at-home dad from Pleasant Hill, Ore., came from out of nowhere Monday to win the 34th annual pumpkin weigh-off in Half Moon Bay, shattering the competition's old record by almost 300 pounds. He beamed with pride as the weight was revealed - and kissed his winning pumpkin when it was declared a winner.

"You'll see me kiss all my pumpkins," Starr said a few minutes later. "It kind of sounds corny, but you develop a bond with your pumpkins. ... They're almost your friends."

This was just Starr's second season growing giant squash. He easily beat Joel Holland, a farmer from Washington who won the Half Moon Bay contest the past three years. Holland finished second this year with a 1,384-pounder.

Starr's winner, worth $9,144 in prize money, fell 11 pounds short of the 1,535-pound record for a pumpkin in a California contest, set just this weekend in Elk Grove (Sacramento County) by Pete Glasier of Napa. The world record pumpkin is a 1,689-pound squash grown this year by Joe Jutras of Rhode Island.

The winning pumpkins will be on display this weekend as part of the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. The top local pumpkin was a 1,292-pound gourd grown by Leonardo Urena of Napa, who finished fourth overall. Eric Carlson of Portola Valley won the "Most Beautiful" pumpkin award for the symmetrical, shiny and unblemished pumpkin he grew in his backyard.
There was nothing pretty about the largest pumpkins in the Half Moon Bay contest, most of which had the partially collapsed look of a bean bag chair and the complexion and texture of a bowl of oatmeal. Some growers planted as early as April, and the winning pumpkins can gain as much as 10 pounds of weight per day during their peak growing periods.

The weights have jumped dramatically in recent years, as competitors share the best seeds and perfect their growing methods - which include constant watering, pruning and use of mild organic fertilizers. The champion pumpkin in 1991 was 602 pounds, and the winner during the first Half Moon Bay weigh-off in 1974 was 132 pounds.

Contest organizers now use a forklift to move the pumpkins, and may soon need a bigger scale to weigh the winners. Several pumpkins Monday were big enough to hang over the edge.
Once again, most of the winners came from out of state. A Californian has won only one Half Moon Bay pumpkin contest since 1990. Amanda Zunino, a 13-year-old Los Altos Hills resident, came within 32 pounds last year. Zunino and her father's entry this year weighed in at 1,069 pounds.

Starr said he started growing giant pumpkins last year at the urging of his pumpkin-growing mentor, Steve Daletas, also from Oregon, who won the Half Moon Bay contest in 2001. Starr's first attempt at pumpkin growing in 2006 yielded a 1,066-pounder.

Starr said he didn't have any big secrets, just "yards and yards of chicken manure, lots of mixed compost and lots and lots of time."

He said he entered the contest mostly so his children, ages 4 and 2, could enjoy the festival's parade this weekend. He was stunned by the weight of his pumpkin, which he grew on his one-acre plot.

"My neighbors think I'm crazy," he said.

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