COVINGTON — It’s the Great Pumpkin, Miami County!
On their farm outside of Covington, Harley Weldy and his wife Kathie have been growing giant pumpkins for more than a decade. The Weldys began growing the giants in their garden after watching a television show featuring the larger than life jack-o-lanterns.
“We watched the show and I thought ‘I can do that’…and I got hooked,” Harley Weldy said. The Weldys began their giant growing journey by doing research and attending giant growers seminars. Their curiosity sparked the hobby of growing the giant pumpkins for the last 15 years.
Their 2018 giant pumpkin will be one discussed around the family dinner table for years to come.
Harley Weldy’s giant pumpkin was the second largest on display at the Hamilton Operation Pumpkin festival held the first weekend of October.
Weldy’s giant pumpkin weighed 1,666 pounds, second to Michigan’s Josh Larsen’s 1,901 pound heavyweight. Weldy was proud of his garden grown pumpkin, noting the state up north’s winner was grown in a greenhouse due to their cooler temperatures. Weldy’s pumpkin was one of 26 giants at the festival with entries from West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas.
Harley said he can guess the weight of his giant pumpkin using measurements, the results of their hard work isn’t revealed until the official weigh off at events, which adds to the excitement.
“The happiest time is getting it out of the patch and loaded on the skid,” Kathie said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun to watch.”
As part of the sanctioned competition, when Weldy has to finally dispose of his winning pumpkin, he’ll donate 100 seeds to the Southern Ohio Giant Pumpkin Growers. The seeds are sold to raise money for the club to offset costs of events such as the Hamilton competition.
“It’s a sad time when it comes time to cut it open,” Weldy said.
Each spring, Weldy starts the process by planting several seeds and then carefully selecting the strongest, healthiest plant. The pumpkin plant is then planted in a large patch by their home. Prior to the spring growing season, Weldy sows rye to enrich the soil to give the giants a boost of nutrients to sustain their growth from spring through fall. A protective makeshift greenhouse shields the two vines from the cool spring temperatures. Weldy also sets up LED grow lights to fortify growth until the summer sun is in full swing. Day by day, the vines overtake the large patch throughout the summer. The Weldys hoist the hundreds of pounds of pumpkin early in its growth to place sand underneath to prevent rot.
The most “nerve-wracking” process is pollination, which takes planning and patience as well as nature’s timing and weather cooperation.
Weldy had thought about taking a break from the giant pumpkin patch, but his grandchildren won’t let him. The Weldys enjoy showing off their family photos featuring the giant pumpkins with their grandchildren perched on top as babies. Now grown and in high school, his teenage grandchildren are already planning to have their senior pictures in the pumpkin patch next to the grandparents’ giant gourds.
Harley Weldy’s giant pumpkin seed genetics will carry the Weldy name and join others around the nation in the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth’s database which features seeds from around the world. Harley said he’s happy to help anyone interested in growing giant pumpkins to carry on the tradition and hobby in the area.
It year was a banner year for giant growers. Steve Geddes of New Hampshire grew the largest pumpkin in U.S. History — 2,528 pounds at a local fair. The U.S. record is about 100 pounds short of the heaviest pumpkin ever grown around the world. The world record is held by Mathias Willemijns with his 2624.6 pound pumpkin weighed at the European Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Germany on Oct. 9, 2016.
To learn more about the art of growing giant pumpkins, visit www.bigpumpkins.com