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NC State Fair crowds fall for giant pumpkins

Volunteers guide a giant pumpkin onto a scale during the Great Pumpkin/Watermelon Weigh-off Tuesday at the State Fairgrounds.
Volunteers guide a giant pumpkin onto a scale during the Great Pumpkin/Watermelon Weigh-off Tuesday at the State Fairgrounds. tlong@newsobserver.com

Some in the crowd clustered in front of the giant pumpkins at the State Fair on Sunday could hardly believe what they were seeing.

There, in the midst of the hay bales and mums, sat a 1,404.5-pound squash specimen that now holds the state’s record for biggest pumpkin.

The mottled green-and-orange giant loomed in the back row, topped with a purple-and-pink first-prize ribbon.

“Fourteen-oh-four!” bellowed one man.

“Oh my gosh,” mumbled a woman right behind him.

People whipped out their phones or cameras to snap a selfie or take a photo of their family and friends on a bench next to the behemoths.

April Blazich, the superintendent for the horticulture department at the fair, said the pumpkins and their giant watermelon neighbors always are popular. She thinks people love something extraordinary, whether it’s the fair’s over-the-top food, its nonstop midway or the pumpkins.

“This is show business,” she said. “We don’t have freak shows anymore, but we’ve got giant vegetables.”

Danny Vester, the man with the green thumb who grew the new record-holder, started the pumpkin from a $40 seed in March. He brought it outside in May and pollinated it in June.

By then, the pumpkin was adding 30 to 50 pounds each day. It’s no easy task to heft several hundred pounds of pumpkin each day, so growers estimate weight by measuring height and girth.

Vester, a telephone company retiree from Spring Hope, suspected early on that he might have a winner. This was his first year growing competitively, and he’s found he can’t resist the call of the pumpkin patch.

“The main competition is against yourself, for your personal best,” he said.

Vester’s record-breaker naturally took first prize among North Carolina pumpkins at the state fair’s weigh-off last week. Jack Bacheler of Clayton came in second with a pumpkin weighing 878 pounds.

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