PALMER -- Even before the official reading was taken, it was no secret that grower Dale Marshall would win the 2012 Alaska's Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Alaska State Fair. At weigh-in time Tuesday afternoon, the only two pumpkins in the show ring in the Farm Exhibits Building at the Alaska State Fair were his. Last year, Marshall, of Anchorage, brought in a pumpkin that weighed over 1,700 pounds but saw it disqualified when judges found a small hole that went all the way into the inner cavity of the gourd.
Earlier, it had appeared that five Alaska-grown pumpkins might be in contention. Three of those, however, met the same fate as Marshall's 2011 contender. Mardie Robb, a competitor last year, said the cold summer presented an insurmountable challenge to local pumpkin growers, including her. Alaska pumpkins do all of their growing in a brief three-month window and every degree of temperature counts. Robb said the pollen must be 75 degrees to turn the blossoms into vegetables -- and she specified that pumpkins are vegetables.
"I tried 11 times this summer, and none of them worked," she said.
Among the growers whose dreams of a pumpkin big enough to bathe in were thwarted was J.D. Megchelsen, whose 1,287 pounder was declared the winner last year when Marshall's entry was disqualified. Out of contention this year, Megchelsen served as a judge in contest, scrutinizing the plants with a flashlight for any crack or puncture. Holes cannot penetrate to the cavity, Robb explained, because that might provide growers with a way to introduce extra weight into their entries.
One of Marshall's pumpkins was particularly beautiful, with an unblemished skin and deep orange color. It weighed in at 771.5 pounds.
The other had a lighter, creamier color but appeared larger. Preliminary "over the top" measurements suggested it might come in at more than 1,000 pounds, which would mean that Marshall had grown three thousand-pounders in three consecutive years. He mentioned that, among other things, he fed the pumpkins molasses and steer manure.
The crowd in the bleachers and clustered around the barricades leaned forward and snapped pictures as a forklift raised the creamy contender in a multi-strapped "pumpkin lift" designed to transport giant pumpkins. The pumpkin was set on the scale, the straps removed and the result announced: 931 pounds.
That's enough to be the biggest pumpkin officially grown in Alaska during the chilly summer of 2012. But Megchelsen's 2011 winner retains the all-time state record.
The fair's next super-vegetable event, the 17th Annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off, will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday.