WARREN — Each year Bob Singleton seemed to do a little better than the one before.
“One time it came in 10th, one time it was seventh, one time it was fifth. It kept moving up the ladder,” the Portsmouth man said of his homegrown pumpkins’ annual showings in the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Grower’s weigh-off at Frerichs Farm in Warren.
On Saturday his hard work finally paid off, as his 1,426.5-pound squash took first place in this year’s contest. (Ed Giarrusso, of Prudence Island, took fourth place with a 1,289-pound pumpkin.)
“That $3,000 first prize was pretty nice,” said Mr. Singleton.
So what will he do with it? “Just put it in the bank and buy some some more supplies,” he said.
While the average person could produce a pumpkin weighing a few hundred pounds, serious growers like Mr. Singleton use genetic seeds — those taken from other giant gourds — and apply a lot of tender loving care.
“I start the seeds in my basement probably around April 20 and shoot to have them in the ground by May 1,” said Mr. Singleton.
He then uses a soil heating cable — similar to a gutter de-icing cable — to keep things toasty.
“They’re warm-weather vegetables so there still the possibility of frost,” he said. “It’s got a thermostat set at 74 degrees. I usually keep it plugged in all year. It goes off in the summer, but it will come back on in the winter.”
The growing season is usually from around July 1 to Sept 1, he said. “There’s lots of work pruning. You’re out there a couple of hours a day,” he said.
But it’s an amazing thing to watch how rapidly the pumpkins grow,” he said.
“They can put on 40 to 50 pounds a day.”
This actually wasn’t a great year for growing pumpkins. “The weather was kind of wet. A lot of guys lost their pumpkins,” he said, adding that he usually grows two pumpkins every year but lost one of them to rot.
‘Seed, sun and luck’
To grow a champion, he said, the plant needs to stay healthy throughout the process. “This pumpkin kept growing right to the very end,” he said. “The three biggest things are seed, sun and luck.”
To get the gargantuan gourd from his garden to Frerichs, Mr. Singleton used a tripod with a four-by-four and a chain hoist. “I can do it myself, but normally my wife Kelly helps me,” he said.
After the contest was over and his prize money collected, the family brought the squash back home.
“Right now it’s in my front yard,” Mr. Singleton said Monday. “My wife set up a beautiful display around it. If it starts to rot, I’ll start to cut it up, harvest the seeds and throw the rest into a compost pile.”
But, he added, “I’m trying to save it until Halloween.”