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How to grow a giant pumpkin for a giant pumpkin contest

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Go behind-the-scenes with competitive pumpkin grower Don Young of Des Moines, Iowa. Young’s largest pumpkin weighed in at 1,662 pounds (754 kg) in 2007, and in this Iowa Public Television report from 2012, he goes for another record, despite being up against a few challenges: The heat, a drought, and some pretty big competitors. From The New York Times:

With the right seeds and soil preparations, veterans say, it’s fairly easy to grow an impressively large pumpkin. But the hobby’s elite, while still amateurs, operate on a different playing field. These growers spend hundreds of dollars on laboratory analyses of soil and plant tissues to help them decide whether to add more nitrogen, say, or calcium. And they speed photosynthesis by spraying their plants’ leaves with carbon dioxide…

Extreme gardening involves money and sacrifice. Mr. Young wakes up in the middle of the night to check his pumpkins. He uses 27,000 gallons of water a month — nearly enough to supply a family of four for a year — and he has 80 sprinkler heads. He runs heat lamps all night after planting seeds in the chilly April ground, and cools his gourds with fans in sweltering midsummer heat. He can’t remember the last time he took a vacation.

Watch Young enter his giant squash into the 2012 Iowa State Fair contest, a follow-up to his months of work in the garden:

Now for the record books: The heaviest pumpkin in the world was 2,323 pounds (1,054 kg), grown in Switzerland by Beni Meier in 2014. The largest in North America is a 2015, 2145.5 pound (973.2 kg) gourd grown by Gene McMullen from Streator, Illinois.

Next: Carve them! Ray Villafane turns pumpkins into artfully carved Jack-o’-lanterns and How to make Halloween pumpkins with scary teeth.

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