Alaska News

Jeff Lowenfels: Midwinter dreams of giant vegetables

Let's face it. The best thing about the Alaska State Fair are the big veggies, not the fried Snickers. It doesn't matter where you live or garden, gardeners like to see big vegetables and fruits.

Take pumpkins. There is a real interest now in growing a record here in Alaska, now that folks see it is possible. It seems just yesterday (but it was the late '70s) that I drove all the way to Homer to see a 60-pound pumpkin. That is a long way to drive, but in those days, a 60-pound pumpkin was a very unusual thing up here.

Wow, how things have changed. There is a giant pumpkin category at the fair and some of the entries are 1,700 pounds or more! How did that happen? That 60-pounder led to the location of some special seeds, the ones needed to grow a real giant, and off we went.

Don't misunderstand me. To grow a giant pumpkin (or any other giant vegetable) requires a tremendous amount of skill, space, time and effort. Still, you have to have the right seeds. Those off-the-rack puppies won't do.

If you are interested, start with Howard Dill Enterprises. Actually, even if you aren't, seeing pictures of big pumpkins can be a thrill and his site has them. In addition to giant pumpkins, this second-generation grower-business offers giant squash.

Dreaming of big pumpkins is a good idea. Check out some other sites, too: and P&P Seed Co. both have seed and instructions and pictures of the most unbelievable produce you can grow! Just a factoid: A giant pumpkin can put on 40 pounds a day (actually night, which is when they grow). Again, it is a tremendous amount of work to grow one. Still...

Of course, our love for the fair's giant cabbages is legendary. I suppose there are quite a few heirloom giant cabbage seeds floating around Alaska. They say the big ones are just extremely pampered OS cross seeds (though I am not so sure, which is why a local heirloom from Palmer might be worth gold). Anyhow, OS cross seeds do grow some pretty big heads and you can get this seed, as well as plants, from any local nursery. Seed is also available from Denali Seed which is really a must-visit site I should have listed the very first week of these catalog columns, because everything they sell is Alaska-tested.


Well, giant pumpkins and giant cabbages may not be within everyone's reach, but big tomatoes could be, provided there is a greenhouse in the backyard (something I am seeing more and more of). Instead of 2,000 pounds, we are talking 2 to 3 pounds here, with a lot less effort required.

Check out DT Seed's Giant Tomatoes. They are all big, and some of them are pretty gnarly-looking, but what the heck. It is the poundage that counts with these. Reimer Seeds has a large giant tomato seed selection, as does Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest.

It takes a bit of time to start strawberries from seed, but check out the size of the fruit grown from the seed offered at Cheap Seeds or from Urban Farmer. Wow, apple-sized strawberries! Think the slugs or birds or beetles would get them first? I am not sure they do well here, but it is worth a look.

Much easier would be giant kohlrabi. One year we grew some huge ones from seed I got from Park Seed Co. I can't remember what they were, but check out their offering of Kossak Hybrid Kohlrabi seeds. Wow, 10 inches or more in diameter and not woody? You can find them from another great catalog worthy of perusal, Jung Seed.

And finally, as much as I think planting too many is a sign of a novice gardener, I am not sure I should be pushing giant radishes. Giant radishes? In 29 days, you can have one bigger than a baseball that still tastes good (if you like radishes and perhaps close your eyes a bit...). Check out's offering called German Giant. He offers quite a few other giant vegetable seeds worth looking at.

Giant fruits and vegetables are fun for the avid hobbyist, but they often don't taste very good and as I already mentioned, they can increase the workload considerably. For many of us it is hard enough to grow a regular tomato, not to mention a 5-pounder, but still, it is always worth dreaming, especially when we still have quite a way to go before preparing beds for giant vegetables.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week of Jan. 30

Alaska Botanical Garden: Time to join and pledge. Join now and get the full year's worth of benefit from start to finish.

Stored plants: Check yours. Water if the soil is dry on potted plants. Remove moldy bulbs and tubers from stored collections and increase air circulation if you are having mold problems.

Pelargoniums: Take cuttings of your indoor "geraniums."

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.