PALMER -- "Lucy Lu," a 1,287-pound pumpkin grown by John J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski, took the title as the biggest pumpkin ever grown in Alaska at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh In at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday.
A 1,723-pounder grown by Dale Marshall of Anchorage, "Patrick," was disqualified because of a hole in the bottom that went through to the core of the gourd. It will, however, be placed on view in the farm products display starting today.
There was a great deal of curiosity over whether Marshall's pumpkin would break the world record currently held by a New Jersey grower, 1810 pounds. A sullen silence fell over the crowd as judges crawled under the giant vegetable, suspended from a hydraulic hoist, to inspect the flaw, less than 3 inches across, probing it and deliberating for several minutes.
There were groans when officials finally announced that the specimen from Sand Lake had run afoul of the official rules of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the international group that makes the rules and keeps the records.
Had it qualified, "Patrick" would have been only the fourth pumpkin in history to have topped 1,700 pounds. "It could take another five years to grow one this big again," said Marshall.
He was disappointed but philosophical. "I can't think of anything I could have done different that would have prevented it," he said.
Roughly the size and shape of a Smart car, and slightly heavier, Marshall's pumpkin will be put on display with the other giant vegetables for the remainder of the fair.
Megchelsen is a pioneer in Alaska's fledgling humongous pumpkin scene. In 2004, his 707-pound "Thunder Horse" smashed the state record of 347 pounds set by Homer resident David Schroer in 1997. In 2006 he broke the 1,000 pound mark, holding the record until last year when Marshall set a new state record at 1101 pounds.
The growing season for pumpkins is brief in Alaska. The titans at the fair grew for only three months, gaining 20 to 40 pounds a day.
Serious pumpkin-growing is a fairly new addition to the state fair and more complicated than displaying turnips, for example. Getting the colossal squash from hothouse to the fair and weighed involved flatbeds, straps, cranes, a forklift and a hydraulic hoist.
This was the first year more than two growers have entered giant pumpkins in the Alaska weigh-off, which is one of 70 such sanctioned events in the world. Four growers competed. In addition to Megchelsen and Marshall, Mardie Robb of Palmer submitted a pumpkin weighing 213 pounds and James Bushey, also of Palmer, entered one that reached 182 pounds after growing for just two months. Both were first time pumpkineers.
(Robb is the wife of Scott Robb, whose several records include the world record kale, 105.9 pounds, grown in 2007 -- which Mardie says tasted pretty good.)
No word on what she plans to do with her pumpkin. But Marshall's whoppers have a history of going on display at his driveway around Halloween.
Alaska holds several world records for large vegetables, including: root beet, 42.75 lb.; romanesco broccoli, 35 lb.; carrot, 18.985 lb.; celery, 63.03 lb.; kohlrabi, 96.95 lb.; rutabaga, 82.9 lb.; turnip, 39.2 lb.; kale, 105.9 lb.; and, of course, cabbage, 127 lb.
Vegetable weigh-ins at the fair continue with the Giant Cabbage Weigh-in at 6 p.m. on Friday.
J.D. Megchelsen with his winning pumpkin. Video by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News
By MIKE DUNHAM