EDDYVILLE — A town of Mansfield man who has been growing giant pumpkins for almost 20 years won the state title for biggest pumpkin over the weekend — again.
Andy Wolf of Toad Hollow Road, Little Valley, won first prize Sunday and $4,500 at the contest at the Great Pumpkin Farm of Clarence.
His giant gourd tipped the scales at 1,971.5 pounds, beating the 2016 state record by 2.5 pounds.
It’s not Wolf’s first state record win. He claimed the 2005 state title with a 1,407-pound gourd at a contest in Cooperstown. That record stood for 2006 as well.
“Since then, the competition has gotten better,” Wolf, a county Health Department inspector, said on Monday. His state record this year is more than 500 pounds heavier than his first 12 years ago.
The New York state record pales in comparison to the world record held in recent years by Europeans, said Wolf, 38. Last year a Belgium farmer grew a record 2,624-pound gourd.
“I’ve got a way to go to catch up with him,” smiled the Allegany native. There may be only 20 better pumpkins than his in the country.
The record gourd will remain on display at the Clarence Great Pumpkin Farm for a few more days. Wolf plans to sell it if possible. Otherwise, Wolf will harvest the seeds and distribute them.
Wolf has wanted to win the Clarence contest for some time. Besides bragging rights, the icing on the cake was the $4,500 first prize.
Over the years, he’s competed against the many friends he’s made in the quest to grow bigger and bigger pumpkins or gourds.
“This was the largest plant I’ve ever grown,” Wolf said, pointing to the space beneath a tripod lift that was used to raise the 1,971 behemoth enough to back a truck under it for the drive to Clarence.
For the average giant squash, Wolf allows about 800 square feet. The record holder this year got 1,200 square feet of vines, leaves and roots.
“You need that many vines, leaves and roots to funnel all the growth into the pumpkin,” Wolf said.
Wolf started with nine giant pumpkins, but disease and splitting claimed a few. He’s still got two pretty big ones growing. One will be competing at an upcoming giant pumpkin contest in Altoona, Pa.
While he may not break the top five at Altoona, he’s looking forward to a weekend of camaraderie.
“We’re all good friends,” he said. “It’s friendly competition. I’ve made friends from around the world.”
At a Pumpkin Growers Convention in March in Niagara Falls, growers from England stayed in Ellicottville.
“We share growing tips and see what’s new,” he said. “It’s a good chance to see everybody again.”
Wolf said this was a good growing year — especially with his well-drained gravel soil that survived frequent rain. He controls the amount of water and nutrients the giant pumpkins get through a drip irrigation system. They get watered three times a day on timers. Wolf drilled a dedicated water source for the pumpkins. He adds mostly organic nutrients to the water system from time to time.
Planning has already begun for next year’s crop of giant pumpkins. As soon as the pumpkins are removed from the garden, the leaves and vines will be removed to avoid any diseases they may have picked up. Wolf will then add some leaves and manure and till the soil to plant a cover crop of winter rye grass.
Wolf starts the seeds in mid-April. Two weeks later, the seedlings are in the ground, protected by a plastic mini hoop house.
“It’s a lot of work,” he admits. “You have to keep them from frost.” Then you have to tend to them daily, watching out for plant diseases.
During the summer months, the pumpkins gain up to 50 pounds a day. Wolf uses about 100 gallons per plant per day.
“They put on 80 percent of their weight at night,” Wolf said. “Keeping them warm on a cold night is a big advantage.”
Wolf plans to grow gourds next year using mostly his own seed stock. He has seeds from other champion pumpkins as well. After being dried out, the seeds can be stored for many years in a freezer.
His wife, Christy, and children, Tim and Amelia, help with the pumpkins as well.
Genetics and new growing techniques will continue to lead to bigger pumpkins or gourds.
Wolf wants to find a way to grow larger versions of bright orange pumpkins that are nestled in one corner of his garden. At hundreds of pounds, they are true pumpkins.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)