Monster pumpkin sets new state record

Kaylin Bettinger
Dale Marshall of Anchorage set a new state record for his giant pumpkin entry at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. His weighed in at 1,101 pounds. Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

The new record to beat is 1,101 pounds in the giant pumpkin contest at the Alaska State Fair.

On Wednesday, Dale Marshall of Anchorage beat the old state record of 1,019 pounds, set in 2006 by this year's second place finisher, John "J.D." Megchelsen.

"A lot of hard work finally paid off," Marshall said.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, a crowd gathered around a small crane outside the barn at the fair. The crane had a scale on it, and lifted up the huge pumpkin, which was attached by a metal contraption and ropes. The crowd cheered.

"One thousand one hundred and one," shouted Marshall.

RECENT ARRIVAL

Ten years ago, there was no such thing as the giant pumpkin contest in Alaska. The largest pumpkin at the fair was about 150 pounds and was included in the "giant vegetable" category, according to Kathy Liska, farm supervisor.

But in 2002, J.D. Megchelsen saw Dave Schroer's 347-pound pumpkin in the paper and got inspired.

He started growing his own pumpkins the following year. His first was only 152 pounds, but by 2004, he had almost doubled Schroer's pumpkin's size. His weighed 707 pounds that year, taking the state record.

Liska was impressed. She decided the large squashes deserved to more recognition and gave them their own section and event -- the Alaskan Midnight Sun Pumpkin Weigh Off.

In 2005, Megchelsen broke his own record with a 942-pound pumpkin.

And again in 2006 -- 1,019 pounds.

For the last few years, that record held.

Enter Dale Marshall, who was inspired by Megchelsen's pumpkins the way Megchelsen had been inspired by Schroer's giant gourd years before. He started growing pumpkins in 2008 and, this year, took the state title.

Is Megchelsen mad that the crown is out of his hands? No way.

"It's kind of an honor that somebody would be doing this because of you," he said.

GROWING PROCESS

Growing a giant pumpkin is a year-long process, Liska said. Growers start picking out seeds and readying soil a year ahead of time.

Megchelsen starts his pumpkins in mid-March. He plants the seeds indoors and, after about a week, he movegood s them outside. By mid-June, he said, he wants his pumpkins to be volleyball-sized. At that point, they really take off.

The pumpkins can grow 20 to 30 pounds per day.

"Literally, they'll be the size of an orange one day, and then a large grapefruit the next day," he said.

Marshall's record-breaking pumpkin grew 600 pounds in July, he said. That's 20 pounds per day.

So what do you do with a pumpkin that weighs a ton?

Different things. Marshall said he likes to keep them in his yard until Halloween. School kids walk by his Anchorage home and are excited about the pumpkins, he said.

Unlike jack-o-lanterns on the porch, these pumpkins won't rot quickly because they aren't cut up. After a month, they should still be intact.

Last year, Megchelsen donated his pumpkin to the Kenai Visitors Center where it was carved and put on display. Another time, he donated one to be made into pies for charity.

Marshall isn't sure what he'll do with the pumpkins after he takes them off display.

"Maybe I'll sell it on Craigslist," he said.


By KAYLIN BETTINGER
kbettinger@adn.com