Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
                                Ryan Nefcy leans against his sturdy Atlantic giant pumpkin, named Gertrude, which weighed in at more than 1,000 pounds. For the story, please turn to page A2 of today’s Whidbey News-Times

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Ryan Nefcy leans against his sturdy Atlantic giant pumpkin, named Gertrude, which weighed in at more than 1,000 pounds. For the story, please turn to page A2 of today’s Whidbey News-Times

Ryan and the giant pumpkin: Coupeville resident grows half-ton gourd

Lying in a Central Whidbey garden, among large green leaves, was what looked like Cinderella’s carriage. But no fairy godmother was around to help this pumpkin grow and grow and grow.

The orange bulbous gourd, known as Gertrude, looked cartoonish sitting behind a home just southeast of Coupeville, although she’s often covered to protect her from getting too much sun. The Atlantic giant pumpkin weighs 1,045 pounds, according to gardener Ryan Nefcy.

“It reminds me of James and the Giant Peach,” he said, standing next to his creation.

The gourd, which is considered a fruit and not a vegetable because of its seed-bearing structure, weighs approximately as much as a male grizzly bear.

Last year, he grew his first attempt at the gargantuan species of squash, and it topped out at about 487 pounds. This season, he has certainly surpassed his goal of doubling that. With this year’s success, he’s caught the bug — whatever bug it is that instills the gargantuan-gourd-growing instinct.

“I’ll probably grow them forever,” Nefcy said.

He’s not alone. The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth is an international regulatory entity that tracks official records and provides information to growers. Nefcy uses the commonwealth’s detailed chart to estimate the weight of his mighty squash. The algorithm used to create the chart is improved by real weights recorded each year at hundreds weigh-offs held annually across the globe.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
                                Ryan Nefcy uses measurements to estimate the weight of his giant pumpkin.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Ryan Nefcy uses measurements to estimate the weight of his giant pumpkin.

“It’s actually a bigger, nerdier thing than people realize,” he said.

Gertrude currently weighs about two-and-a-half times as much as the heart of a blue whale and 200 times as heavy as a Chihuahua. She’s sturdy too; Nefcy can easy stand on top of her calloused skin, which is between 12 and 15 inches thick.

Throughout the journey, Nefcy decided to post periodic pumpkin updates on the Whidbey Community Page on Facebook, but he didn’t quite expect her to have such a strong following. He has had people come to visit Gertrude and take her photo. He’s even had around a dozen people ask for her seeds so they can take a crack at the giant pumpkin growing game.

Nefcy said he typically spends about an hour caring for her each day between fertilizing and watering the plant, which extends about 700 square feet around the pumpkin. She drinks about approximately 300 gallons of water a week and eats and eats.

Because of the amount of fertilizer that was fed to the monster squash, it’s not recommended to use in pies or bread.

Gertrude didn’t exactly make it through her long journey of growth unscathed, either. Heavy rain caused a cavity to open up that Nefcy plugged with paper towels and caulk. The hole caused some internal problems, which led to the pumpkin not weighing quite as much as the charts predicted.

“It’s fun more than anything else,” he said. “That’s the whole reason I do it.”

He’s already began planning for next year’s crop, and this time he got permission from his girlfriend to use substantially more space in the garden by attempting to grow four Atlantic giants. He’s considering using a hoop house to get a head start too.

Through his research, he’s learned there’s an art to raising a giant pumpkin. Early growth is crucial, because that’s when the squash will get most of its size. But it can’t grow too fast, because it might break off the vine or crack. Even with this risk, the gourds can keep up a mind-blowing pace. At the height of Gertrude’s growth, she averaged 60 pounds per night, Nefcy said.

Next year, he’s aiming for 1,800. State and world record-breaking pumpkins exceed 2,000 pounds.

“Eventually, I’m going to try and get that state record,” he said.

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