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Video: The world’s biggest pumpkin?

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TODAY contributor
updated 10/6/2008 11:10:42 AM ET 2008-10-06T15:10:42

Steve Connolly’s prized pumpkin could yield enough pie to feed an army — or comfortably house a family of six. But instead, his goal is to smash a world record with the orange behemoth currently squatting in his pumpkin patch.

Proudly displaying the Frankenstein-like creation from his garden in Sharon, Mass., Connolly spoke to Meredith Vieira and Al Roker via satellite on TODAY as he waits for judgment day, Oct. 11. His pumpkin may tip the scales at upwards of 1,900 pounds, which would best the current record of 1,689 pounds.

Vieira asked Connolly if he worries about the pumpkin breaking when it is hauled off to Frerichs Farm in Warren, R.I., for its weighing in five days.

You could almost see the sweat pouring from Connolly’s brow. “Oh my goodness, yes,” he said. “Lifting it at this time of the year is a tough thing. We’re very careful how we lift it. I’ll have a fork truck come in and they’re going to use a chain and hoist to lift it up.”

Smashing pumpkin records
While some people may believe Connolly is out of his gourd in fussing and pampering over his pumpkin — which the many tourists to his pumpkin patch have dubbed the Beast from the East — he’s actually part of a unique world that is more a sport than a gardening pastime.

Just two decades ago, 400-pound pumpkins were looked at in wonder, but these days, even a 1,000 pound pumpkin looks like a pipsqueak to competitive pumpkin growers. Playing around with pumpkin genetics and feeding them fertilizer fit for a garden king has produced whoppers such as Joe Jutras' current record holder.

Coveted pumpkin seeds can fetch up to $500 from growers, and prize money can top $10,000 in the competition for the weightiest.

Connolly said he’s actually had to slow his pumpkin’s growth by trimming its vine in recent weeks for fear it might otherwise burst at the seams.

“It’s dropped off a little bit, actually; it was growing about 40 pounds a day in the middle of August,” Connolly told Vieira and Roker. “This time of the season you don’t want it to grow too fast, because they’re a little more brittle on the outside. They don’t like to expand as much as they do earlier in the season.”

A pampered pumpkin
Connolly, who in 2000 was the first New England grower to tip the 1,000-pound mark for a pumpkin, gives his potential record-buster only the best of care. He keeps the rain off with a plastic tarp and shades it from too much sun with as cotton tent-like overhang. But what it’s fed is the key to its growth, he said.

“I have a lot of special fertilizer,” Connolly explained. “We use Neptune’s Harvest fish (fertilizer), North American Kelp makes a liquid seaweed we use, and a whole bunch of cow manure.”

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While Connolly’s pumpkin won’t be officially be weighed until the Warren, R.I. competition Oct. 11, the gargantuan gourd’s current circumference of nearly 200 inches has him believing he can shatter the world record by 200 pounds or more.

“The volume of the thing equates to a weight, so I know approximately what it weighs right now,” he explained. “But nothing is certain until this thing hits the scales.”

Still, record-holder Jutras, of Scituate, R.I., isn’t ready to give up without a fight. He’s bringing his own he-man pumpkin to the Oct. 11 weigh-in and told the Boston Globe he’s waiting to see for himself that Connolly bested him.

“It definitely has the size,” Jutras told the Boston Globe of Connolly’s pumpkin. “Whether or not it weighs what it tapes, you never know. Some of these pumpkins go heavy. Some go light.”

The weight of the world record pumpkin has been exceeded each of the last 10 harvest seasons, and has tripled over that period of time.

Connolly, a 53-year old manufacturing engineer in his day job, told the Globe that competitive pumpkin-growing “just middle-aged guys having fun.” The growers even have their own yearly convention called The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, held each March in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

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