Think size doesn’t really matter? That bigger isn’t always better?
Try telling that to Matt McConkie.
The 39-year-old Mountain Green man recently set a new record at Thanksgiving Point for the largest pumpkin ever grown in Utah, a whopping 1,974-pounder. That’s a mere 26 pounds shy of what was once thought to be the utterly unattainable — a one-ton member of the squash family. A second McConkie pumpkin — at 1,764.5 pounds — just won the weigh-off at Hee Haw Farms in Pleasant Grove.
“There was a time that everybody said a 1,000-pound pumpkin was not possible,” McConkie said. “But now, we’re saying 2,000 is possible, and we’re even shooting for 3,000 pounds.”
That one-ton threshold has already been crossed in North America, and the reigning world champion is a 2,624-pounder, grown in Belgium.
“That’s the target,” McConkie said. “Every pumpkin grower knows that number. Every grower out there is gunning for a world record.”
This is the fourth time since 2010 that McConkie has set the state record. He’s been growing pumpkins for nine years now.
What’s going on? Why do these pumpkins just keep getting bigger and bigger? Well, we know it’s not climate change. Because pumpkins wouldn’t care much for global warming.
As it turns out, big pumpkins are big babies. They like the air to be warm, but not too warm. And they like the soil to be cool, but not too cool. As a result, McConkie’s biggest expense is his power bill.
“In the spring and the fall we heat them,” McConkie said. “And then we cool them all summer long — we’ve got fans going all day.”
McConkie also runs roof heating cables underground in his pumpkin patch, to keep the ground at a constant 78 degrees.
And then there’s feeding the massive beasts.
“We bring in dump truck after dump truck after dump truck in soil amendments,” McConkie says, using the polite euphemism for manure. “We use hundreds of tons of it in a year.”
McConkie has an acre and a half in Washington Terrace where he grows his prize-winners. It’s home to a 4,200 square-foot pumpkin patch — just enough room to grow four “very large” plants. There are two full-size greenhouses, and equipment to lift and transport a ton of pumpkin.
“They’re hard to move, trust me,” he says. “You can’t just pick them up, no matter how many friends you have.”
McConkie doesn’t know just exactly how much he spends on his hobby. He’s never really added it up, “because I don’t want to know.”
And McConkie’s wife has always been great about not giving him a hard time over all the time and money spent.
“She doesn’t ask about how much it costs, which is nice,” he said. “She just kind of turns her head the other way and lets it happen.”
There are inherent challenges in growing giant pumpkins. The biggest: They grow so fast they often split open.
“They’ll grow 40 to 50 pounds a day,” McConkie said. “You literally can see them get bigger by the hour.”
Another danger: Back in 2015, McConkie lost all of his pumpkins after spraying a broadleaf weed killer in a pasture near the pumpkin patch.
“The fans took in the vapors and killed all my pumpkins that year,” he said.
For those interested in growing their own giant pumpkins, the key is getting seeds from another giant pumpkin. And one place to find such seeds is through the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers, a group of about 110 pumpkin farmers who run the annual state pumpkin contest. For a $25 annual membership, you get seeds from the previous year’s winner.
Although the major weigh-off contests have all been held, the giant pumpkin fun isn’t over yet:
• Some growers enter their produce in the Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta (Oct. 21 at DayBreak in South Jordan). Contestants sit in hollowed out pumpkins and paddle across a pond at the master-planned community.
• Some destroy them at the Ginormous Pumpkin Drop (Oct. 28 at Hee Haw Farms in Pleasant Grove). Pumpkins big and small are dropped from a 15-story crane: “We drop them onto cars and pianos and into swimming pools,” McConkie said.
• Others patronize Feast With the Beast (Nov. 23 at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City). Giant pumpkins are given to the elephants to stomp and eat.
As for McConkie’s record-setting pumpkin, it’s headed for for Station Park in Farmington, where it will be carved into the state’s largest-ever jack-o-’lantern.
Giant pumpkin-growing is “big business, but there’s not much money in it,” according to McConkie. After a weigh-off, growers often sell their pumpkins to business owners, who incorporate them into their Halloween decorations. However, the purchase price rarely reflects the amount of time and money put into a giant pumpkin.
As McConkie describes the hobby: “Mainly, we invest thousands and thousands of dollars to earn a $5 blue ribbon.”