Graeff Phillips, of Manchester, has always enjoyed gardening and finding out if he could grow different vegetables and fruit. This year Phillips discovered he could grow a 641-pound pumpkin without using any soil.
The 21-year-old college student found out just how large his hydroponically grown pumpkin was at the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth weigh-in on Saturday in Doylestown, Pa. The weigh-in was the culmination of nearly a year's worth of work researching, planning, building and finally growing the giant pumpkin.
The Times spoke to Phillips last week prior to Saturday's weigh-in to find out about growing the giant pumpkin, caring for it and if it will be turned into a giant pumpkin pie.
Q: Why did you become interested in growing pumpkins?
A: I like gardening. My grandfather always had a big pumpkin patch. Every year I would take 5-gallon buckets out to his pumpkin patch — watering it and taking care of it. That was a week out of my summer and it was something I always enjoyed. I decided to try it out with a little bit of an extreme side to it.
Q: Why grow a pumpkin hydroponically?
A: Only a very select few growers try to grow pumpkins outside of the ground. I'd seen a couple guys fail at it and a couple guys get some decent results. So I decided to try something different. I wanted to see if it would work. And I think it did.
Q: What was the process to grow a pumpkin hydroponically?
A: All the roots grow in water. It's a more beneficial way to get an even amount of watering and perfectly even amount of nutrients to the pumpkin each day. You can control the pH, how much water it gets and how much nutrients of each different type it gets.
Q: When did you start the process?
A: I began buying and drawing out a [growing] system in November of last year. I bought the seeds in January, they were $12 a seed. The variety [of seed that I bought was] Dill's Atlantic Giant… The seeds for this pumpkin came out of a 1,024-pound pumpkin.
Q: How often did you have to check on the pumpkin while it was growing?
A: Lately, I haven't had to check on it too often. But in the summer, when it was growing its fastest, it was gaining upward of 30 pounds a day. The plant was drinking 20 to 30 gallons of water a day. My reservoirs, between the two of them, hold about 60 gallons. In order to keeping from running out of water, I would come out and add water and add nutrients, measure the pumpkin, check for bugs, check for diseases, check all the hose lines, make sure my pumps were functioning properly. It was a whole checklist I had to go through.
Q: What did you do when you went on vacation?
A: I had a guy pumpkin-sit for me. He came over each day and topped off everything and checked it for me. That was a nerve-wracking time. I did not like being away from it because I knew exactly what needed to be done. I kept calling the guy and texting him.
Q: Are you satisfied with the results?
A: My original goal was 500 pounds. The only other pumpkin I grew prior to this was a 5-pound pumpkin for a jack-o'-lantern… I'm very proud of it. Out of all the things that could have gone wrong, very few did. I think luck was on my side this year.
Q: What's next for your giant pumpkin?
A: There's a couple people that have asked to put the pumpkin on display in front of their businesses. I will be taking the seeds out of it. Possibly, depending on the interest, I will be selling the seeds to fund next year or recoup some of the money spent on the project this year… If I have the time again and I'm not in some other phase of my life, I will be coming back to pumpkin growing... I already have plans for a better hydroponic system… I would hope to reach 1,000 pounds next year.
Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or email@example.com.