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The greatest pumpkin

Coupeville giant pumpkin growers and pie makers were outdone Saturday by an Oak Harbor family during their own celebration and contest.

Despite predictions of wet weather, those who went to the town’s Harvest Fest were greeted by perfect autumn weather. Multitudes of folks browsed through the Trade Fair, feasted on bratwurst or popcorn and checked out the last day of Coupeville Farmers Market.

But the highlight of the annual festival was undeniably the ninth annual giant pumpkin events. In addition to a pumpkin pie contest, this year the organizers even threw in a zucchini rivalry. Besides trophies, the winners received an assortment of appropriate prizes — from hoes to fish fertilizer — donated by local businesses.

“This is the biggest contest ever,” said Lee Roof, the Coupeville doctor who helped organized the event. “There are 29 pumpkins here.”

Besides awards for sheer mass of the over-sized gourds, Roof awarded prizes for categories. “Ugliest” pumpkin went to the Oak Harbor Youth Center, and Rebecca Olson received the “Linus Award” for her 120 pound entry, which was judged the most unimpressive pumpkin.

It’s called the Linus Award, Roof explained, because it’s about “looking for the Great Pumpkin but not quite finding it.”

Yet one Oak Harbor family outdid all others. Phil Renninger won the ultimate size award with his 739.5 pound orange monster. It was a record for the nine years of the contest. He said it took half of Oak Harbor’s junior varsity football team to load the oversized fruit into his pickup truck.

Renninger’s two-year-old daughter, Avalon — who slept through much of the ceremony — also broke a record in the youth category with her 633 pound gourd giant. Her four-year-old sister, Sage, got second place with a 617 pounder and their 10-year-old cousin, Brenda, won third place with her 412 entry.

Avalon Renninger won a prize for prettiest pumpkin.

In addition, Renninger took first-place in the pumpkin pie contest, which was also a light-hearted grudge match with his mother, Victoria. The year before, the wind blew the identification cards off the pies and when his mother took first place, he claimed it was actually his pie.

“I think the grudge match has come home,” Roof said after announcing the winners. But the family still managed to get a pie-baking hat trick. Renninger’s wife, Michelle, won second place and Victoria got third. The trick to a good pumpkin pie, Phil said afterward, is molasses and orange zest.

“This clan has outdone us all,” Roof said. “I’m going to irradiate the Renningers’ seeds next year so we all have a chance.”

While the Renningers undoubtedly dominated the day, there were other notable winners. Peter Dwersteg, a 14-year-old Coupeville boy, grew a monster on the vine that came in second behind Renninger’s big lunker.

Oak Harbor resident Ellen Giles got third place and rookie of the year with her 416 pound misshapen pumpkin. Carol Olson beat out the zucchini competition with a 11.7 pounder.

So what’s the secret of Renningers’ pumpkin-growing success? Of course, it all starts with the right seeds, which Roof special orders from a guy in Canada.

Beyond that, it takes “a lot of TLC,” Phil said. “Water every day. But they grow so quickly they tend to split, so you have to take take the tension off the vine. But mainly it takes composted steer manure.”

After the contest, Phil said he plans to harvest all the seeds from the pumpkins. His sister is going to take two for mammoth jack-o-lanterns and a co-worker is bringing one to scare folks in Anacortes.

In the spirit of the harvest season, Phil said he’s willing to share seeds with anyone interested in growing orange monstrosities in their backyards. He said those interested can call him at 678-1850.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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