Drive to his cabin in MacDougall’s (Newfoundland & Labrador) this time of year and you’ll see one or two giant pumpkins wrapped in blankets, snug in their beds.
The blankets keep the sun off their skin. Sun is great for the pumpkin vines, but not the gourd itself.
“It hardens the flesh,” explained Mr. Osmond. “They’ll split.”
This year there are two monsters in the patch, but if Mr. Osmond had his way there would be only one there.
“This year I should’ve had about a thousand pounder,” he said. “What happened was, I had a stem split. So I was nursing the other one over on the side.”
A stem split requires a bit of surgery. Mr. Osmond washes the wound with bleach and then collects tree sap and spreads it on the split.
“That sets just like rock.”
By the time he got his stem split cured, he couldn’t bear to kill his backup.
Of the two, the biggest is over 500 pounds by his calculation. While he can’t officially weigh it until he takes it out of the garden, there is a formula for calculating estimated weight based on measurements.
The two pumpkins he has this year are much bigger than any pumpkin 99.9 per cent of farmers will ever grow, but for Mr. Osmond that’s not good enough. He wants to top his unofficial Newfoundland record from 2009 of 733 pounds.
The record is unofficial because there’s no official giant pumpkin association for the province.
In other parts of Eastern Canada and into the New England states, giant pumpkin growers take their sport very seriously. To get in the record books, a farmer needs to bring his pumpkin to an official weigh in.
It’s something Mr. Osmond will likely never be able to do because taking plant matter off the island is illegal.
That’s why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency checks for potatoes in vehicles arriving at the ferry in Port aux Basques.
Sneaking a giant pumpkin past the CFIA agents in Port aux Basques just isn’t an option. So for now, Mr. Osmond takes his pumpkins up to the fish plant at Codroy for a weigh-in.
To talk pumpkins with Jim Osmond is to go down the rabbit hole into the mysterious and competitive world of giant pumpkin growing.
A single giant pumpkin can require a patch of soil around 1,000 square feet. Mr. Osmond’s patch is 500 square feet. He’ll be expanding that next year.
The investment in time is impressive too.
“It’s a couple hours a day,” he said. “And then it takes a couple hundred gallons of water per day.”
The cost is at least several hundred dollars in fertilizer. Mr. Osmond figures it could be as high as a dollar per pound. Although he keeps meticulous records of his pumpkins’ size throughout the growing season, he doesn’t save his receipts.
“Boy I tell you, if you want it, you got to work at it,” he said. “It’s a lot of work and I enjoy every hour I spends.”
Although giant pumpkin growers are competitive, they also need to work together, sharing secrets and seeds.
Where does one start if one wants to take part in this annual competition?
“You go on BigPumpkin.com,” said Mr. Osmond, matter-of-factly.
He is also a member of the Nova Scotia Giant Vegetables Association. His $15 per year membership dues gets him a packet of seeds, each bearing the last name of its grower. Mr. Osmond keeps records of the two plants he cross-pollinates, and the seeds from the resulting pumpkin become “Osmond” seeds.
Of course he can’t share his outside the island, and he hasn’t had a request anyway.
Lesser pumpkin growers are happy to swap seeds for the cost of postage, but seeds from a world record pumpkin can command a serious price.
“One seed last year went for $1,525,” said Mr. Osmond. “That came out of the world record pumpkin - 1,818 pounds.”
Behind every dedicated farmer is a good woman. Mr. Osmond’s wife Arthena is there to help out.
“Jim gets really emotional about it,” said Mrs. Osmond. “If there’s bad weather, oh that’s it. He’s finished.”
Once they get growing, giant pumpkins can grow five inches or more in circumference every day.
“My daughter sat here on the bridge and watched that thing growing,” said Mrs. Osmond.
“She heard it cracking and she said, ‘Oh my God!’ It frightened her.”
Mrs. Osmond also helps deal with the aftermath in the fall. She makes quite a bit of marmalade with the flesh. The rest goes in the compost. She doesn’t like pumpkin pie, so she’s not sure if giant pumpkin flesh is any good for baking.
This year may be a write-off for any record opportunities, but Mr. Osmond is going big next year. He has plans for a greenhouse.
“I guess she’s going to be about 30 feet long and 25 feet wide,” he said.
Most world record pumpkins have been grown in a greenhouse the past few years.
“My buddy in Glace Bay, his is hitting about 2,000 pounds. He grew it in the greenhouse.”
While she is supportive of her husband’s hobby, Mrs. Osmond figures with the shorter growing season, a world record just won’t be possible in Newfoundland. But Mr. Osmond isn’t convinced. He doesn’t see much difference in the climate between Glace Bay and MacDougall’s.
He thinks 2013 will be the year.
“Now if I had a thousand pound one there, don’t you think I’d be some proud? I’d be standing on her so I could get my picture taken.”