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The quest for the giant pumpkin

Steve Maydan weighing his 923 pounder last October. The goal this year is to exceed 1,000 pounds. —Ben Shaw photo

Steve Maydan weighing his 923 pounder last October. The goal this year is to exceed 1,000 pounds. —Ben Shaw photo



It may be the first week of spring, but Steve Maydan is already looking forward to the fall with heavy anticipation.

Nine-hundred-plus pounds worth of excitement, to be exact.

Mr. Maydan, who grew a 923-pound pumpkin last year, is spearheading the town’s first-ever Giant Pumpkin and Squash Weigh-off, which will be held on Sept. 29 at Ballard Park as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s second annual carnival.

“Over the last couple of years, we wanted the weigh-off to be bigger and to be part of other community events,” Mr. Maydan said. “With the carnival’s help, we will be able to attract more visitors to the weigh-off and will have a bigger presence than ever before. We hope having it in town will increase our sponsorship and lead to more donations.”

The Connecticut Giant Pumpkin and Squash Growers Association formed the pumpkin and squash weigh-off in Fairfield in 2005. The event was held there annually until September 2012, when the club dismantled.

He said there are other weigh-offs across the state in towns such as Durham and Woodstock as well as another one in Rhode Island.

“The weigh-off never really drew a big crowd when it was in Fairfield, but we wanted to keep it local, and that was one of the main goals we had last fall after the club folded,” Mr. Maydan said. “The most important goal of this event is to encourage local growers and local farmers to get involved.”

Mr. Maydan, who has lived on New Street since the mid-1980s, said he is now the “point person” for this year’s weigh-off. He has already started the preparation work to have the event in Ridgefield, including renting a forklift to move the giant fruit and a scale large enough to weigh them.

The pumpkins and squashes force their owners to transport them delicately and to weigh them with even more caution. The result is a long process that requires some manual labor and some neighborly assistance.

“Last year, my entire neighborhood helped me load the pumpkin with a tripod device that had a chain hoist and 4-by-4 planks that were 16 feet long,” Mr. Maydan said. “Everyone I know encourages me to grow; they’re always interested when it’s time for me to yank out of the ground.”

At the weigh-off, a metal ring is placed over the top of the fruit and straps are wrapped around it, tying it down to a wood pallet. A forklift is used to unload the giant pumpkin onto a scale.

After the weigh-off, Mr. Maydan said, the pumpkins last as long as the weather permits and benefit from having a wall that is eight to 12 inches thick.

“Eventually they collapse and become compost,” he said. “I dig a hole every fall and bury the compost right into the soil, but what’s really interesting is what happens with the seeds after we split the pumpkins open.”

Spectators watch as a giant pumpkin gets weighed at last year’s Giant Pumpkin and Squash Weigh-off at Penfield Beach in Fairfield. The Connecticut Giant Pumpkin and Squash Growers Association hosted the event in Fairfield from 2005 to 2012. Ridgefield will host its first-ever weigh-off this Sept. 29 at Ballard Park. —Jessica Collins photo

Spectators watch as a giant pumpkin gets weighed at last year’s Giant Pumpkin and Squash Weigh-off at Penfield Beach in Fairfield. The Connecticut Giant Pumpkin and Squash Growers Association hosted the event in Fairfield from 2005 to 2012. Ridgefield will host its first-ever weigh-off this Sept. 29 at Ballard Park. —Jessica Collins photo

Mr. Maydan said that individual pumpkin seeds, such as one that came from last year’s world-record 2,009-pound pumpkin, could be sold for as much as $150. He said that seed auctions occur every winter, usually in February, and are a good opportunity for farmers and growers to talk about their hobby.

As for the former members of the club, Mr. Maydan said there are plenty of them scattered across Fairfield County, who are looking forward to hauling their giant fruit to Ridgefield this fall.

There were 15 growers at last year’s contest, and he hopes there will be more in September.

“Attending these weigh-offs is a great way for growers like us to network and share different experiences,” Mr. Maydan said. “We’re talking with each other all the time.”

In addition to speaking with local growers and farmers, he talks with other pumpkin growers all over the world through a website called bigpumpkin.com, using message boards and chat rooms to learn about what farmers in Europe or South Africa did to improve their fruit’s growth.

When he’s not in the garden tending to giant pumpkins, Mr. Maydan works at Cartus in Danbury. He said he’s been growing giant pumpkins since 2006, when he attended the Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E, with his children.

“I’ve always been a gardener,” Mr. Maydan explained. “But my kids seemed to really enjoy that fair, so I took this up as a hobby for them, and here I am six or seven years later.

“Initially, I couldn’t get any of my pumpkins to grow more than 100 pounds because I was growing them like tomatoes.”

He said he works in his garden a couple of hours a day throughout the week and on average spends around 12 hours a week total toward growing and gardening.

Mr. Maydan has a simple method of growing. He plants three pumpkin plants in his back yard on New Street and grows one fruit per plant to maximize size.

This process starts at the end of April and concludes in the last week of September, when he cuts the vine and harvests the fruit.

He believes there are three crucial factors in the plant’s initial growth — space, sunlight and fertilizer.

Mr. Maydan says he uses a mixture of local and non-local ingredients in his soil, including a Connecticut-based seaweed and fish fertilizers and a Pennslyvania-based mushroom compost.

As for the peak season in July and August, he said the fruit can grow up to 25 pounds a day for a period as long as three weeks and that this period has the biggest impact on the end weight.

“There are over 100 days in the summer for the fruit to grow itself,” Mr. Maydan said. “But that doesn’t mean your attention should be any less. Vine management is crucial to the summer growth, making sure the vine doesn’t grow too long.”

While he hopes the event this September draws more farmers and growers than it has in past years, Mr. Maydan remains concentrated on his own individual goal of growing a 1,000-pound pumpkin.

About author
Award-winning journalist for Hersam Acorn Newspapers. Covers beats such as education, police and fire, planning, real estate, and business in the town of Ridgefield. Also covers sports and hosts a radio show, Radio Arts and Leisure, that runs on the company's 18 individual news websites. University of Denver graduate, die-hard Bronco and Yankee fan. Sports lover and compulsive traveler.

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