By Tom Collins
EGANVILLE — An Eganville man has set a new Ontario giant pumpkin record after two of his pumpkins each weighed as much as a Smart car.
Ryan Hoelke’s previous best was 1,463 lb., but he went to the Woodbridge Fair at Vaughan on Oct. 8 in hopes of breaking the Ontario record of 1,684 lb. The pumpkin tipped the scales at 1,803 lb., smashing the Ontario record.
A week later, he entered a different pumpkin in the Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest that weighed 1,800.5 lb.
Hoelke plants and grows just three pumpkins a year. And he doesn’t do it for the money. When starting out in the giant pumpkin hobby, he wrote to the then-world record holder in the United States, and that farmer sent him a seed for free. So he believes it would be bad karma if he charged people for his seeds.
“There’s no better way to lose money than to grow giant pumpkins,” he said, adding it cost him about $2,000 a year for the three plants.
So how does one get rid of a giant pumpkin? For the past three years, he turned his monster pumpkins into a food bank fundraiser and dropped it from 50 feet up. It smashed into a grocery store parking lot. This year’s event was cancelled as he couldn’t get hold of a crane.
Hoelke’s goal is to grow a 2,000-lb. pumpkin. The Canadian record of 1,877 lb. was set Oct. 1 by Todd Kline in Shawville, Que.
The North American record is 2,261.5 lb., held by a Rhode Island man. The new world record was set this year at 2,623 lb. by a Belgium man.
The secret to growing monster pumpkins is the soil, Hoelke said. He sends a soil test to A&L Canada Laboratories at London every spring to ensure the soil has the right nutrients. He also cuts off a pumpkin leaf in July after pollination to send to A&L for a tissue test to see if there are any nutrient deficiencies in the plant.
He creates his own compost, made a year in advance, mixing leaves with 3,000 gallons of coffee grounds. He has a deal with a local coffee shop for the coffee grounds and many Eganville residents donate their leaves.
“At this time of year, people start to actually bring them to my house,” he said. “It’s almost like a landfill site.”
To get extra growing days, Hoelke starts the pumpkin seeds inside his house for about 10 days before transplanting them to the garden around May 1. He then builds a temporary 6 ft. by 6 ft. greenhouse around the pumpkins to keep them safe from frost. He uses soil heating cables to keep the soil temperature at 70 C. The pumpkins grow fast, and by the third week of May, have outgrown the makeshift greenhouse.
Each pumpkin takes up about 900 sq. ft. To make sure the pumpkins have adequate moisture, Hoelke this year added a drip irrigation system to give the pumpkin water right at the roots, which came in handy as his property went more than 30 days without rain. He gave each pumpkin 50 gallons of water in the morning and another 50 in the evening.
Hoelke knows this year’s record-breaker will be tough to repeat. Most giant pumpkin growers are retired and can spend hours on their hobby, but the 34-year-old Hoelke runs his own company designing and building kitchens and bathrooms. He plans to use an online app that will allow him to water the pumpkins from anywhere.