It’s that time of year: Hallowe’en has just passed, the harvest is mainly in, and grotesque gourds are tipping - tipping over? - the scales in ever-ascending poundage.
When The AgriNews began covering pumped-up produce weigh-offs several years ago at Ottawa’s By Ward market, pumpkins overtaking the magic number of 1,000 lbs. were rare and celebrated far and wide.
As cross-breeding and rearing techniques have improved, 1,000 lbs. has become commonplace, In those days, oversized squash were barely in the running. Now they’re almost as brawny as the giant pumpkins. Other competing gourds are becoming more obese too.
Which brings us to Pembroke gourd-meister Brant Timm, the world’s new champion squash grower with a 1,131-lb. specimen under his belt. By the way, that’s just a figure of speech.
With his win certified recently at Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch, Pembroke, Timm attributes his success to an organic approach - including shunning chemical fertilizers - and to good breeding.
For the breeding, he thanks Bob MacKenzie of Tiverton who last year brought in a 1063.5-lb bruiser, the record Timm toppled.
Timm points out that both the 2005 and 2006 squash champs were grown with seed taken from MacKenzie’s 2004 effort, a comparatively petite 848-pounder.
"If you want to grow the biggest fruit you can each year, you need to search out the best seeds available," Timm says. "Over the past 10 years, the weights have increased tremendously due to controlled pollination to assure a true cross."
The weigh-off at Hugli’s was an event sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth which concerns itself with the plumpest possible pumpkins and other second-string gourds.
Hugli’s is about a lot more - and bigger - than blueberries. It’s about scary wagon rides, and a haunted house, and a corn maze; it’s about firing pumpkins out of a special cannon and carving them out for pumpkin boat races.
And it’s about regional weigh-offs; when the run ended in Ottawa last year, Brian and Judy Hugli shifted the gourd action to their Pembroke place.
Timm grows super-sized pumpkins, melons, squash and assorted other gourds, not in some expansive farm field, but in his regulation-sized backyard in Pembroke, Ontario’s smallest official city.
A giant pumpkin producer for six years, it was Timm’s first attempt at growing mutant squash and it paid off big-time. He produced despite a summer of challenging weather including three "micro-burst" storms, which damaged plants and resulted in excess moisture and insufficient sunlight.
"Watering can be challenging at times. Too much water and you can have fruit splits or stem and vine problems. Plant disease is also a problem."
While not record-breakers, Timm also placed first at the Hugli weigh-off with his giant pumpkin, a 1,090-lb. colossus, displayed the longest gourd at 9-ft., 9.75 in., and had the third heaviest watermelon at 107 lbs. Not to be outdone, son Brandon, 24, came second with a 120-lb watermelon and third with a 1019-lb. pumpkin.
Brant extended the flamboyant fruits of his labour by entering what turned out to be fourth tallest corn, stretching up 13-ft., 6.5 in.
For Timm, the secret to success in growing "these monsters" is going organic which, he claims, results in healthier soil and permits the fruit to come along steadily, avoiding spurts from chemical fertilizer treatments which can cause splitting... and disqualification.
His base foundation is heavy clay. He’s built up the soil over the years to 1.5-2 ft. on top of the clay, giving the roots plenty of room to grow and plenty of nutrients from the accumulation of added organic materials.
In the fall, Timm treats the soil with fish, kelp and alfalfa meal, jersey greens and gypsum, along with aged manure and home-made organic fertilizers "which have worked really well" as a soil drench and foliar. He also use molasses as a foliar spray.
While proud, Timm remains unemotional about his world-class squash feat. The ultimate destination for the world’s biggest squash is the compost pile where it’ll help create some fresh organic matter to help go for an even bigger contender next year.