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Vermont's Agriculture Secretary Plants a Seed in the Giant Pumpkin Growing Field

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Anson Tebbetts has high hopes for these pumpkin plants - COURTESY OF ANSON TEBBETTS
  • Courtesy Of Anson Tebbetts
  • Anson Tebbetts has high hopes for these pumpkin plants

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts posted his personal crop report on Instagram on April 30. His video pans across little potted plants, stick straight, each supporting two or three giant, grass-green leaves. "Summer goal," Tebbetts wrote. "Grow a giant pumpkin. They are up."

Tebbetts went to the Vermont Giant Pumpkin Growers Association's weigh-off at Sam Mazza's in Colchester last fall, where Huntington grower Kevin Companion's 1,386-pound entry won. What enamored Tebbetts was a first-time grower who showed up with "maybe a 200-pound pumpkin," Tebbetts said. "And he was beaming because he grew this 200-pound pumpkin. I'm like, OK, it worked for him. I'm going to try this."

So he joined the association, recruited a mentor, teamed up with a farmer, watched videos and got a book, How to Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins III, by Don Langevin.

"You've gotta cover them, you got to keep them out of wind and you got to keep them moist," said Tebbetts, who grew up on a Cabot dairy farm. Some growers heat the soil with coils to gain an advantage, Tebbetts added: "I'm not at that level yet."

Asked if Tebbetts' job gives him an unfair advantage, frequent weigh-off winner Companion chuckled. "Absolutely not ... There's a lot of tricks to learn."

Growers bury vines to boost root growth, build shelters worthy of scouting merit badges and adjust fertilizer cocktails as their plants progress. Some send away tissue samples for an analysis of their pumpkin's nutrient uptake.

One pumpkin requires 1,000 square feet of soil and 150 gallons of water a day and can put on 50 to 60 pounds overnight.

"It's not an easy-start hobby,'' said John Young, Tebbetts' mentor and a member of the association's half-ton club. Just getting pumpkin seeds to germinate is a challenge and Tebbetts has managed that, earning him "a cautious A-minus" from Young.

Tebbetts isn't out to win — yet. "The goal," he said, "is just to try to grow something that's bigger than a jack-o'-lantern."

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Great Pumpkin Grower?"

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