It’s a really Great Pumpkin, Matt Fay

Tina M. Gohr

ALGOMA - Matt Fay soon found out that raising a giant pumpkin can be as time consuming yet as rewarding as raising a child. (The stay-at-home dad and his wife Jacquelyn are expecting their eighth child.)

First-year giant pumpkin grower Matt Fay poses with the estimated 546-pound pumpkin that he cultivated at his Algoma home. In the background is the frame Fay constructed for greenhouse he will use next year, where the crop will be in a controlled environment.

His fascination about giant pumpkins began after he spotted them all lined up in a row like boulders for the Pumpkinmania! celebration a couple years ago at The Lodge of Leathem Smith while driving over the Bayview Bridge in Sturgeon Bay.

Fay eagerly joined the Wisconsin Giant Pumpkin Growers Association with wide eyes and never looked back in his rear-view mirror. The group sent him three seeds from the Wallace 2009 pumpkin stock.

He researched, read books and watched YouTube videos.

“So many things could go wrong’’ he said. He learned too much water will split the pumpkin or a vine will abort it. Animals, insects and playful children can accidentally destroy it. Powdery mildew could easily form on the leaves from this year’s wet summer. And keep in mind, Algoma carries a growing season that is shorter for warm-weather crops, the type of climate the giants require.

But Fay kept forging ahead.

He built a mini greenhouse to start the three seeds indoors before transplanting in the spring into an already established, soil-tested vegetable garden.

He adopted a new motto — Good seeds, good soil and good luck.

And don’t forget, lots and lots of water. Fay said 50 gallons a day is required at its peak growing streak, during which the pumpkin can gain as much as 18 pounds a day. He hand-pollinated the blossoms and charted step by step of its progress in a daily journal. They received nourishment from six different fertilizers plus compost tea.

Fay kept a daily journal and growing charts of his first year producing a giant pumpkin. It grew as much as 18 pounds a day and is now at an estimated 546 pounds.

Fay grew the pumpkins in a fenced-in residential yard within 435 square feet. It should require 1,000 square feet. Eventually, he eliminated a few of the pumpkins until there was one great pumpkin. His vine resembled an octopus with sprawling tentacles.

“My goal was 600 pounds,’’ Fay said, but it appears to have fallen a little short. According to a chart, his 3 ½-foot tall pumpkin, 4 ½ feet wide with a 7 ½-foot circumference, should weigh 546 pounds.

He named the pumpkin Doris, after his wife’s late grandmother, Doris Holub.

With all the energy devoted to the plant, Fay doesn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity again next year.

“Of course,’’ he beamed. “There is so much more to learn.’’

The 600-pound goal is still the target for next year. Fay is constructing a large, outdoor greenhouse to grow the pumpkin in a controlled environment.

“The sun is another enemy,’’ he explained. “The skin should be soft so it swells like a balloon. If the sun dries out the skin, it will split. Most giant pumpkin growers grow the pumpkins inside. Wind is another obstacle.”

Public unveiling of the pumpkin the first-year grower begins with the Fall Harvest Festival at Hillside Orchards in Casco on Sept. 31-Oct. 1. Fay will transport it to the Harvest Festival at Walters of Rio Creek on Oct. 21. Then, he will haul it back to his home in Algoma — to be carved for Halloween.