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Giant squash places first at pumpkin fair

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When Brad Slepicka of Thunderhill Giants attended the Roland Pumpkin Fair on Oct. 3, he took a literal tonne of pumpkins with him – more than that actually. But, the catch was, this was only five pumpkins.
Slepicka has taken up growing giant pumpkins in recent years, and has had some monster gourds growing on his acreage all season long, culminating in his three biggest pumpkins being 519 pounds, 979.5 pounds and 1,029 pounds. “I started this year with the hopes of hitting 500 pounds – which
would be double my 2018 record of 232 pounds,” said Slepicka, excited that his crop ended up so
much bigger than that. “I started my seeds indoors on April 21 and selected my best plant to transplant into my garden by May 17. The one in my garden was to be my babied plant, where it would get the most attention and all the extras.
The rest were planted in my field as backups. My 1,029 pounder came from my smallest plant and my
979.5 pounder was also a backup. It just goes to show that you never know what you will have until it is on the scale.”
The pumpkins that Slepicka planted are a variety known as Atlantic Giants, which can be traced back to the Pumpkin King himself, Howard Dill, who bred giant pumpkins in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia and patented the seed, which continues to be the source of record-breaking pumpkins around the world.
“To get a pumpkin of this size, it has to be in the plant’s DNA,” said Slepicka. “My seeds came from two growers in B.C., Glenn Dixon and Scott Carley. The seeds that I planted were the 1126 Dixon and 1543 Carley.
The number represents the weight of the pumpkin that the seeds came from. “If you are starting out and experimenting, Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds from the store will get you a nice sized porch pumpkin, but if you want a real giant, you’ll want to get seeds directly from a giant pumpkin grower.” Slepicka noted that there isn’t really a secret to giant pumpkin growing, and growers are usually happy to share
information with each other to help everyone get the best results possible. “While there are no secrets, there are growing techniques that will help you coax out that giant,” he said. “This comes with a lot of research, a lot of hard work, and definitely some luck. You learn something every year and that is why a lot of giant pumpkin growers keep diaries. It is great to look back and refresh your memory of what
works and what didn’t.
Diaries are sometimes posted online and are great resources to consult during the growing season as well as in preparation for the next growing season. “The fall is when the Giant Pumpkin growing season starts. Having soil that is healthy and ready to feed your plants the following year is one of the best ways you can prepare for getting a giant.” While Slepicka didn’t win the top prize for the most goliath gourd, he
did join the 1,000 pound club and earned the Howard Dill Award for the best looking pumpkin in Manitoba. Dill’s love of big, beautiful orange pumpkins is the reason for the award and colour, symmetry and size are the key elements for having success in this category.
This is Slepicka’s third season growing giant pumpkins, beginning in 2016 with his biggest squash being 101 pounds. His next season was in 2018 with a personal best of 232 pounds. “I didn’t start this
year thinking I could make it to 1,000 pounds, but I did,” he said, noting that this was his first year entering his pumpkins into a competition. 
Slepicka loves seeing if he can beat his personal best biggest pumpkin. He also learned this year that he loves to see people’s reactions when they see something almost unbelievable right before their eyes.
“I had a few people believe that my pumpkins were props and not authentic fruit,” he said. Slepicka added that the fruits of his labour are destined for the compost pile, saving only the seeds, adding to the soil for next year’s patch. “Contrary to what most people think, they are not good for pies,” he said. “They are more of a squash than a pumpkin. Of course, you can make pies with them, but I won’t eat them.”

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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