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Giant pumpkin sets a record

Joe Werner with his wfe Jessie and their daughter Adeline, smiled as his record-setting pumpkin was weighed at the Stillwater Harvest Festival last Saturday. Submitted photo1 / 2
Joe Werner, with the three pumpkins that got him into the “4,000 Pound Club.” Each one weighs well over half a ton. Submitted photo2 / 2

Joe Werner has broken the record for the biggest pumpkin ever grown in Minnesota.

The Richville man took the state’s top prize at the Stillwater Harvest Fest last Saturday, with his pumpkin weighing in at 1,779.5 pounds.Werner visited Heart of the Lakes Elementary School on Monday to talk to kids about growing giant pumpkins.

That beats the state’s previous record by about 150 pounds, and is the 14th heaviest pumpkin ever recorded in the world.

Even so, it missed the overall top spot at this year’s festival. Considered the biggest giant pumpkin weigh-off in the Midwest, the Stillwater festival’s top honors went to Wisconsin man Chris Stevens, whose pumpkin weighed in at 1,783.5 pounds – just a few pounds ahead of Werner’s.

According to news reports, Werner was a surprise winner at the festival, sneaking up right behind Stevens, a well-known previous record-setter.

Werner’s not too disappointed about his second-place finish.

Sure, it would have been nice to win, but as he explained in an interview on Monday, his record-setting pumpkin is still more than double the weight of his biggest one from last year (a 618-pounder). Plus, he was able to grow enough giant pumpkins in one season to be named to the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth’s “4,000 Pound Club,” which was one of his goals for the year.

The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth is a worldwide organization that specializes in growing and competing with giant pumpkins.

With three pumpkins each weighing in at well over half a ton – his record-setter plus another at 1,305 pounds and a third at 1,113 – Werner brought a total of 4,197.5 pounds of pumpkin with him to the festival. The distinction will earn him a place on a short list of other “4,000 Pound Club” members.

Growing the massive gourds takes patience, research, and a lot of hard work. It starts with a champion seed, Werner has said, and then takes the right soil conditions, regular trimming of the vines, the application of water and nutrients, and protection from fungal diseases and sunburn.

Once a giant pumpkin gets growing, it can swell by as many as 30 pounds a day, but the trick is to keep it in good enough condition to be contest-eligible. Giant pumpkins that are diseased or that have split open are not suitable for competition.

The process of getting one to the size of a record-setter, then, is a painstaking one. Werner’s winning pumpkin was carefully nurtured for 103 days before it was ready to be cut from the vine.

But all the work is worth it for Werner, who’s taken a shine to the hobby – and who has a natural knack for it. He started growing giant pumpkins just three years ago, and has gotten better every year.

Next year, he’s hoping to continue that trend. If the weather cooperates, he said, he might have a shot at winning the Stillwater festival’s top spot.

But until then, he’s content to sit back and have a little fun with the fruits of this year’s labor.

On Monday, he took his record-setting pumpkin to Heart of the Lakes Elementary School, where it was put on display for kids to “ooh” and “aah” over. This weekend, it will be shown in public again, at the Ottertail Pumpkin Festival.

And this past Sunday, Werner turned his second-biggest pumpkin into a boat, cutting it in half and hallowing it out so he and his family could sit inside for a paddle on Marion Lake.

John and Betty Werner took their grandson Joe’s second-biggest pumpkin of the year out for a spin on Marion Lake on Sunday. Afte

The boat was big enough to fit Joe, his wife Jessie, and their little daughter, Adeline, inside. Later, other family members took it for a spin, including Joe’s parents and grandparents, and Jessie’s father. The trusty boat never sank.

The fate of the rest of the giant pumpkins remains to be seen. Joe said at least one would probably be used as goat feed on the Werner family farm.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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