August is prime time for giant pumpkins, growing 50 pounds a day

Bryan Sloat has been pumping out giant pumpkins for 20 years.

Last year’s prize plant weighed in at 1,500 pounds, or about 680 kilograms, while he estimates this year’s best is between 600 and 800 pounds — so far.

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“Around the world, I think four out of the last five years, they’ve grown them over 2,000 pounds,” Sloat said. “Growing pumpkins is big business. It’s all genetics.”

He will tend his heaviest pumpkin well into October, and said it could rival last year’s if September is warm.

Weather is important for pumpkins, and the first part of August wasn’t ideal for their growth, Sloat said. “August is usually the hottest month and that’s when it really goes.”

But the outlook is better now and things look promising for the biggest pumpkin.

“It seems to be on a run, which means it will put on 50 pounds a day,” Sloat said. “The plant is probably 25 feet by 25 feet. The leaves are three feet high.”

A tent over it keeps the sun off to prevent ripening.

The Times Colonist has been keeping an eye on Sloat’s pumpkin patch near Swan Lake since he planted it in mid-May. The plants got their start indoors.

Sloat said one of the tricks of the trade is occasionally adjusting the position of the pumpkin’s main vine.

“Ideally, you want the pumpkin 90 degrees to the main vine it’s attached to and not growing over it, so you’ve got to pull the vine back once in a while.”

You need a big area to grow a giant pumpkin, Sloat said, adding that he uses the same soil every year.

“I just rototill all my grass and clippings in it. It gets all loamy so that it’s high and it retains the water when you water it, and also so it will drain off so you won’t get root rot.”

His recipe for growing pumpkins also includes fish soil, fish emulsion, algae powder and fertilizer.

“This is the big secret,” he said. “As the pumpkin grows, you bury the vines.”

That gives the leaves their own root systems, which suck up the water needed for the pumpkin to pile on the pounds.

Sloat said he entered a pumpkin in the Saanich Fair for a number of years, but will sit out again this year because of the difficulty of transportion.

He said he will likely take part in a pumpkin weigh-in in October.

Sloat has some smaller pumpkins on the go, too, one of which is designated for the Moon Under Water Pub & Brewery. “They put it up on their bar on Halloween and fill it full of beer, tap it, carve their logo in it and serve pumpkin beer,” he said.

But the biggest in the patch will, as always, end up decorated at the front of his house for Halloween.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

TRY THIS AT HOME

We’ve been following Bryan Sloat’s giant pumpkins throughout the season — providing periodic updates on their progress for our readers. We hope readers will be inspired to follow suit and share photographs of their own giant pumpkins. Send photos to localnews@timescolonist.com and put “pumpkin” in the subject line.

Here’s one of the photos we’ve received:

a5-08252019-pumpkin1.jpg
One of Glenn and Andrea Dixon's giant pumpkin. - Submitted

Glenn and Andrea Dixon say they have three giant pumpkins in their Mill Bay patch. The smallest will be harvested for the Saanich Fair, which takes place Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, while they plan to enter the others in the pumpkin weigh-off at the Old Farm Market in Duncan.

“We have been growing giant pumpkins for 20 years and our largest is 1,126 pounds,” says Glenn Dixon. “We have grown a pumpkin in excess of 1,000 lbs for eight years in a row.”

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