At the beginning of each October, pumpkin growers haul their biggest beauties over to the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers’ annual weigh-off to claim the coveted first place prize—$2,500 and the glory of growing the heaviest pumpkin around. This year, the winner wasn’t a farmer by trade and didn’t come from a long line of pumpkin growers, which is what you might assume it takes to produce such huge vegetables. Rather, the woman responsible for the 1,725-pound Atlantic giant pumpkin that captured the OVGPG title and a Guinness Book world record—Christy Harp of Jackson Township, Ohio—is a math teacher who simply wanted to compete with her husband.
One Seed Started It All
Christy’s passion for pumpkins started in the eighth grade, though it wasn’t her family’s doing. “My parents hate gardening and my grandparents are farmers who love gardening,” she says. “However, they were raised in the Great Depression era … so spending time, water, and energy on something you couldn’t eat was beyond them.” Instead, she came across a basket filled with free seeds for the taking—that is, if you grew them and entered the products in a giant pumpkin contest. Christy’s first attempt at growing produced a ninety-five-pound pumpkin that placed fourth in the contest. Clearly, she had a special touch with pumpkins from the start.
But it wasn’t until 2001, when she met her husband, Nick, at college, that her interest in growing was reignited. “Sometime over that winter, we figured out that we both grew a giant pumpkin in the past,” Christy explains. There began a friendly rivalry between the two, which was slightly complicated when they married and had to merge gardening space. As she puts it, “That didn’t work out too well. It lasted a week.” After that, the patch was divided in half and they started trying to out-grow each other.
Everybody Wants a Piece
She and her husband started entering the OVGPG competition in 2003, but what started as a pursuit purely for fun—she likens it to an “extreme hobby”—turned into a huge victory for them. Not only did Christy sweep the contest, but she managed to grow the world’s biggest pumpkin to boot. The previous record-holder was Rhode Island’s Joe Jutras, who actually provided the pumpkin seeds responsible for her 1,725-pound winner.
It’s very common for contest winners to offer up their dried seeds for other farmers and people interested in growing. The innumerable seeds that Christy’s winner produced are already being grabbed up by the handful. She estimates that over 500 people have already contacted her. “I would say 400 are non-growers,” she says, which is a little frustrating for her because a winning seed isn’t necessary for success. What’s necessary is knowing about proper growing techniques. “You can grow a super large pumpkin off of a seed from a one-hundred-pound pumpkin if the genetic cross is right,” Christy maintains. “Do your research!”
What Comes Next?
As a teacher and the coach of her school’s cross-country team, Christy doesn’t have a lot of free time to grow pumpkins. “Things start getting really crazy in September and October, when school starts,” she shares. “Every weekend, there’s a cross-country meet and a weigh-off to go to, so let’s just say my house gets really messy in the fall.” Luckily, her job comes with a three-month break in the summer, so June, July, and August are devoted to pumpkins. That seems to be an important time for them as well—this past August, her winning giant Atlantic grew as much as thirty-three pounds per day.
So how does someone who doesn’t farm full-time manage to upstage so many other contestants? According to Christy, it takes “lots of compost, lots of water, and lots of TLC.” And now that she has a world record under her belt, it’s time for a little self-TLC and rest. When asked whether she would defend her title at next year’s Ohio Valley pumpkin weigh-off, she responds, “I think I’m taking a much-needed year off growing. But maybe my husband can pull his ‘weight’ and bring home the title!” Considering all Christy’s achieved this year, it certainly puts a new spin on their old rivalry. Who knows what will come out of the Harp household this time next year?
Photo courtesy of SaCaSeA (cc)