From Pumpkin Patch to Pumpkin Match

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1 Pumpkin Patch To Pumpkin Match Pic
Huge pumpkins draw a crowd at the weigh-off Lisa Pinkerton-Baschiuk

On October 7, hundreds of people will flock to Roland, Manitoba to see a showdown between the province’s avid pumpkin growers. The Roland Pumpkin Fair has been around since the 1970s, and this year both the pumpkins and the fair promise to be bigger and better than ever—and that’s saying something, given that last year’s winning pumpkin was a whopping 1,338 pounds!

“It’s definitely very entertaining to watch the competition,” says Tom Banman, Chairman of the Board for the fair, noting that the main event is the giant pumpkin weigh-off, which takes place at 10:30 a.m. at the Roland Arena. It’s usually standing room only by the time the biggest fruit are weighed, as the event attracts over a thousand spectators.

However, the Pumpkin Fair is more than just the weigh-off.

“It’s a full day event,” Banman adds. “[There’s] a pancake breakfast, crafts and vendors, kids events, and entertainment. Then there’s the fall supper in the evening, so it’s turned into a full day instead of  just an afternoon.”

Other events at the fair will include a sandwich, soup, and pie lunch, the Pumpkin Patch Tea Room (featuring pumpkin desserts), and a classic car show. Children’s entertainment will be available in the form of face-painting and a bouncy house, while food vendors will be available all day. The beer garden opens at 11:00 a.m. School displays and educational/agricultural exhibitions will also be on show for fairgoers. The day wraps up at 5:00 p.m. with the full course Harvest Supper.

Amidst all these activities, the pumpkin weigh-off remains the favourite event. Growers face off in categories for the heaviest pumpkin, tomato, watermelon, and squash. The 2016 and 2015 championship titles were both taken by Milan Lukes of St. Norbert. For two years straight, Lukes grew the fair’s largest pumpkins, each over 1,300 pounds.

Lukes won’t be competing this year, though.

“He couldn’t grow a pumpkin this year because he had to focus on high school,” Banman explains with a laugh. Yes, last year’s big winner was a teenager. “He’s the most avid pumpkin-grower I’ve met.”

Banman adds that growing giant pumpkins is a large time commitment, requiring approximately 45 minutes a day or more.

So, why giant pumpkins? For gardeners, Banman suggests, it’s the competitive aspect. “It puts your skills on the line. You know, what secrets do you know to make a giant fruit?”

Successful growing is generally believed to be a combination of growing techniques and the genetics of pumpkin strains, and some growing techniques are considered standard. Most growers, for example, prune the vines so that each vine has only one blossom on it. In fact, the Roland Pumpkin Fair has a grower’s manual and offers a seminar every spring where people come out and discuss techniques and discoveries

“[But] everyone has their own secrets,” Banman acknowledges.

Some of the motivation for growers may be financial. In Roland, the first-place prize for pumpkins is $1,500 and second-place finish earns $1,000. There are cash prizes for the top five finishers.

“There are tons of prizes, even for small pumpkins,” Banman says, nothing that a “small pumpkin” is considered 150 pounds. However, he doesn’t think the top competitors are motivated by money. “It’s just their passion for it. I think you do it once, and your goal from there on out is to beat last year’s.” 

Roland is one of only three locations in western Canada that hosts an official weigh-off with the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth, the international organization responsible for setting standards and regulations for giant pumpkin growing. According to Guinness World Records, the current record for the world’s largest pumpkin belongs to Mathias Willemijns of Belgium, whose pumpkin was weighed in 2016 by the GPC at 2,624 pounds.

While a pumpkin that size makes for almost mind-boggling photos, it doesn’t make for great cooking. They have a higher water content than smaller fruit, which makes them very bland. After the competition, most giant pumpkins wind up as deer food.

“There’s something for everyone, really,” Banman concludes. “It’s just a great way to spend the day.”

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