Every summer the Farmers & Consumers Market Bulletin brims with photos of someone's overgrown produce. County fairs award blue ribbons for the largest and heaviest vegetable in the show.
Then there's the big league. The real prize-winning, take-home-the-cash, scale-busting contests. Take Robert Ehigh of St. Clairsville, Ohio, for example. In 1994, he won $10,000 from Miracle Gro for growing a 4-pound, 6.5-ounce tomato.
That same year, Herman Bax of Brockville, Ontario, got almost $15,000 for his 990-pound pumpkin. The Dill's Atlantic Giant variety averaged gaining 31 pounds per day. It topped the record of 884 pounds set in 1993.
Growing record produce
GROWING WHOPPER VEGGIES takes patience and a lot of TLC. Jessica Milligan, a White County 4-H'er grew this 140-pound pumpkin whopper for a Georgia 4-H contest.
So how does anyone grow such gargantuan produce? Most of the ones in the local paper happen through unusual circumstances. However, they can be planned, with the right nurturing and attention.
This type of gardening has become the rage in some areas. Big leaguers can attend competitions such as the United Kingdom Giant Vegetable Food and Flower Championships in Weston, Lincolnshire. It's like setting new standards in the pole vault. Records are made to be broken.
So who can compete in this sport (or art) of giant vegetable production? The late Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame was one such competitor. But everyday folks can compete for fun, ribbons, cash and, yes, even personal satisfaction in growing prodigious produce.
Secrets for success
Each crop has special secrets to success.
For instance, to break the carrot record of more than 158 inches, you might try this recipe. Start with a deeply turned raised bed. Build a box up to 9 feet high on top of the bed.
Fill the box with five parts soil, one part leaf mold and one part coarse sand, plus superphosphate and sulfate of potash. Actually, this mixture should sit over the winter.
In early spring, add 4 ounces of calcified seaweed per square yard. Make holes 3 feet deep and 4 inches in diameter and fill with potting soil. Soak seeds, and plant them 1 inch deep, three or four to each hole.
When the plants are 2 inches high, thin to the single strongest plant. Feed, water and protect this plant from pests.
Some growers use special secrets in this phase. One was known to crush birth control pills and add them to the water, hoping the estrogen would make the vegetables drink more water.
For pumpkins, prepare a sunny site. Till in 5 gallons of composted manure, 1 pound of 10-10-10 and 1 pound of lime in a 1.5-cubic-foot hole. Leave at least 20 feet between hills, and plant two seeds per hill.
Water to a depth of 2 inches. Feed each vine weekly with 5 gallons of liquid fertilizer solution. Water as needed. Keep the foliage dry.
After the vines set several pumpkins, remove all but two from each. That will allow the plant to devote its resources to the size, not the number, of pumpkins.
Wide load guidelines
Follow some general guidelines in producing these wide loads. Select seed of varieties bred for size, and give special attention to each plant. These specimens require daily care. Supply extra space, fertilizer and water. And space them wide enough to prevent competition between plants.
Hand pollination or extra bees may be needed. Obviously, the crop must be protected from insects and diseases and have a weed-free environment.
All your care can go for naught even under the best conditions. Then again, you may take home the ribbon from the county fair.
What about eating them? Oh, shudder at the thought. Some consider these large produce quite good. Others think they're only for looks. But you might as well try it.
(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)