Growing giant vegetables: challenging, addictive

Kirk Starratt
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By Kirk Starratt

It can be both frustrating and rewarding, but local giant vegetable growers love their challenging, addictive hobby.

Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers members are preparing for their Gigantic Vegetable Weigh-Off at Glad Gardens in Waterville Sept. 29, and the vegetables are starting to pack on the pounds.

Treasurer and former president, Brian Kenneally of New Minas, said he and current president Jeff Reid started the organization a few years ago, getting together with a handful of fellow growers over coffee. Kenneally is growing pumpkins, squash and tomatoes this year and they’re getting big, especially the pumpkins. Kenneally describes the hobby as challenging and addictive.

“A lot now are grown in greenhouses. Outside, you have the wind, the rain and the cold. Everything is against you,” Kenneally said. “Everyone’s goal is to beat their weight from the year before.”

Kenneally grows outdoors and has taken great lengths to ensure the success of his giant vegetables. He put in heat cables to help keep the ground warm and he puts insulation under his giant pumpkins and squash. Blankets are placed over them at night to help keep them warm.

“If it gets cold too many times, they shut down,” Kenneally said.

He has one pumpkin going to the Windsor exhibition that weighs about 700 pounds. He had to get some strong volunteers and a lift tarp to get it on pallets on the back of his truck. Kenneally has another weighing in at about 850 pounds. He said pumpkins could gain four to six inches in circumference per day, with an inch equivalent to about 20 pounds in weight.

This is his first year trying squash. He described his giant tomatoes as “iffy.”

There is a competitive spirit among growers, but they have a strong sense of camaraderie and help each other out. Kenneally said this involves sharing seeds and advice. Last year’s Valley weigh-off saw about 20 entries, with the largest vegetable, a pumpkin, weighing in just shy of 1,000 pounds. Kenneally, who currently has the club’s “seed of the year,” said this would most likely be surpassed in 2012.

They have a wide variety of vegetable classes at the weigh off, including long gourds, carrots, beets and much more. Some are judged on length or height rather than weight, depending on the vegetable. He said they have a children’s class for nearly every vegetable and they “try to promote the kids.”

Vice-president Paul Ferguson of Canning said he always had a garden and started growing after he tried a few seeds he got from Reid. He said he was hooked and growing has become a bit of an obsession for him. He’s got giant pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers, long gourds and watermelons. Ferguson said he tried squash this year, but they turned orange, meaning he can’t enter them into competitions as squash.

“There’s always next year, that’s what we say,” Ferguson said.

A lot of seed pooling and trading goes on, so club members get to try their hand at different vegetables.

Ferguson said it’s been an exceptional year for giant vegetable growers with the heat and dry weather. He thinks there are record-breakers in Atlantic Canada this year and hopes someone can bring the world title for pumpkins back to Nova Scotia.

He said eight of top 10 pumpkins at the Windsor weigh-off last year came from members of their club. Ferguson said the Windsor event is more about competition, but the Valley weigh-off is more about fun.

Ferguson said Dill family, of Howard Dill Atlantic Giant Pumpkin fame, has been very supportive over the years and all club members deal with them. In fact, most of the giant pumpkins from the Valley club wind up in the Dill’s yard outside Windsor. The Dill’s harvest the seeds, sell them and give growers back as many as they want.

The pumpkins are used to make boats for the annual pumpkin regatta on Windsor’s Lake Pisiquid. Ferguson had two pumpkins become regatta boats last year.

About the weigh-off…

- The fourth-annual Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers Gigantic Vegetable Weigh-Off takes place at Glad Gardens, Waterville, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 29.

- There are 14 categories for adults and children age 13 and under. There is an open vegetable class for people to bring anything. Organizers ask for all entries to be submitted by 11 a.m.

- Entry is free for current members and the fee is $10 for non-members. This also purchases a year’s membership, including a seed package. There is no fee for children 13 and under. There will be children’s activities and games, prizes and a barbecue. The event is free for spectators.

-The Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers sponsor the Hilda Dill Award at the annual pumpkin weigh-off in Windsor, coming up Oct. 6.

- For more information on the Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers and the weigh-off, visit

Organizations: The Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers, Howard Dill Atlantic Giant Pumpkin

Geographic location: Windsor, Glad Gardens, Annapolis Valley Atlantic Canada Nova Scotia Lake Pisiquid

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