Student Grows Gargantuan Gourd

Nothing can squash Quentin Martin's dreams of making it to the big time with his big pumpkin as he shoots for the the Holy Grail of pumpkin weigh-offs at  the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival in mid-October.

Quentin, 14, has nurtured the massive pumpkin since it was merely a seed, doting over the tiny sprout as it grew slowly into the Goliath gourd it is today.

"I put a seed in the ground, and then I watch it grow to be this giant pumpkin," Quentin said. "It’s really cool."


Quentin inherited his fascination with gargantuan gourds from his Castro Valley uncle, a longtime contender at the Half Moon Bay festival. It was one of the uncle's pumpkin seeds that Quentin used to grow his record-setting gourd. It's a scientific fact that massive pumpkins beget massive pumpkin offspring.


Quentin is clearly in awe of a simple plant that can grow to such elephantine girth.


"It’s different than everything else," he said. "It’s different than squash or regular-sized pumpkins. When it was just half the size it is now, people were like, 'Wow, that’s really cool.' And then it gets even bigger than that."


Early on, the Martin family dubbed the pumpkin Shim -- a combination of she and him -- because it was too soon to determine if it was a male or female. Yes, pumpkins have genders. It turns out Shim is a girl.


Quentin planted his Atlantic giant pumpkin on May 23 of this year. He covered the tender young plant with a small makeshift greenhouse to keep it warm. He nurtured it with plenty of fertilizer, of which the formula changes as the pumpkin grows. An automatic timer waters the pumpkin for precisely 1 minute every 10 minutes. Just the right amount of mulch keeps critical nutrients in the soil.


The prized pumpkin is protected by cyclone fencing to keep out critters that roam through the family's yard near the foothills.


"Deer can’t jump over it," Quentin noted of the 6-foot-tall fence. "Possums and raccoons can’t get into it. Turkeys can fly over it, but the turkeys don’t eat the plant. The turkeys eat the bugs, so they actually help me."


Quentin has a special book that contains all the secrets to growing a corpulent pumpkin. The book even has special instructions for how to calculate a pumpkin's current weight and predict its growth trajectory.


Currently, Shim weighs in at a hefty 625 pounds and is growing at the shocking rate of 25 to 30 pounds per day. Quentin fully expects she'll tip the scales at about 920 pounds when she's plucked from the vine and oh-so-gently hauled to Half Moon Bay on Oct. 11 for the official weigh-off.


"Everybody’s like, 'Wow, that’s really heavy,' " Quentin said."But the one that wins at Half Moon Bay will be (nearly) 2,000 pounds – one ton!"


Last year's winning pumpkin tipped the scales at an almost unbelievable 1,658 pounds. The mammoth gourd came all the way from Iowa. The current world record is 1,725 pounds held by an Ohio-grown pumpkin.


Quentin does not harbor hope that his pumpkin will set a world record, yet he's still eager to take part in perhaps the most prestigious pumpkin weigh-off in the entire world.


"I’m taking it because of the experience and the fun of growing a giant pumpkin," he said. "I’ll get to see what it actually weighs and how close my estimates were."


The stuff Quentin learns in the classroom came in handy as he nurtured his pumpkin to its colossal circumference.


"I kind of knew how much math there would be," he said. "I am surprised at how much science there is in growing a giant pumpkin."


Pumpkins are not Quentin's only agricultural pursuit. The freshman football player is interested in agriculture as a career.


"Some people laugh, but I say I want to be a farmer when I’m older," he said. "I really enjoy being in the open, looking at the land, growing things and figuring out the exact science of it. I like seeing my achievements."


Good luck at Half Moon Bay, Quentin!


Posted Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010