Arizona Giant Pumpkin Growers

Sunstroke Virtual Weigh-Off Gives Growers Another Chance at an Arizona Record
The Arizona Giant Pumpkin Growers Association (AZGPG) is sponsoring the SunStroke Virtual  Weigh-Off during the months between its two Giant Vegetable Championships held in May and October.  Entries will be accepted until 5:00pm on Friday, October 26.

Because vegetables are often fickle and show little respect for scheduled weigh-off dates, the AZGPG and the Arizona State Fair have set-up this alternative event to record and recognize the weights, and measurements, of vegetables harvested at times other than the scheduled weigh-offs in Arizona.

The SunStroke Virtual Weigh-Off will allow gardeners the chance to get their giant vegetables weighed, or measured, in accordance with International Giant Vegetable competition rules.

The AZGPG will judge any vegetable presented by an Arizona gardener.  All entries in the virtual competition are considered official Arizona State Fair entries and the results help establish giant vegetable records in Arizona.

The growing season in Arizona has always been unpredictable -- especially with the early -- and long summers -- we've faced these past couple of years.  The result is our spring crops matured early and our fall crops got late starts.  These factors have made it difficult for growers to plan their season to have an entry for either the Spring or Fall Giant Vegetable Championships -- or even for the various County Fairs.

The AZGPG wants to help Arizona growers in whatever way we necessary to ensure they have the support needed to get their vegetables to the Fair -- and to the Giant Vegetable Championships.  The SunStroke Virtual Weigh-Off gives gardeners some relief from Arizona's already limited vegetable show opportunities.

"Many parts of the United States have multiple shows over multiple weekends for their gardeners." said Dean Baker, President of the AZGPG.  "In order to fairly care for Arizona growers trying to compete in County Fair Horticulture Shows, or participate in the Giant Vegetable Championships, we've had to get creative -- and give more people the chance to succeed.

The AZGPG prides itself on its willingness to help growers get their vegetables weight, or measured, in accordance with International Giant Vegetable Show rules.  The Association owns its own scale, which can be transported to where ever its needed to ensure every giant pumpkin, giant squash, or giant watermelon is properly weighed.  "For the smaller vegetables, we arrange with a local grocery store to meet the gardener and weigh their vegetable on their certified scales," said Baker.

Scott Culp, of Sierra Vista, has been growing giant vegetables in his back yard for more than 15 years.  He grew a 450 pound pumpkin last fall for the Arizona State Fair.  Additionally, he grew an Arizona record 2 pound 15.4 ounce tomato. 

This year, he was determined to grow a even heavier tomato and establish an Arizona record for a Sunflower (head) and radish.  Culp took his entries to a grocery store in Morenci, which allowed him to use their store's certified scale to weigh a tomato and two radishes.  He also brought along the head of a Sunflower.  The diameter, of the sunflower, was measured with a steel tape measured -- as required by international rules -- and a record of 14-inches was established for a Sunflower (head) in Arizona.

"I've always been fascinated with trying to grow giant vegetables since high school," said Culp.  "I've collected so many seeds over the years and now I have enough room in my backyard to try a number of different plants."  Culp planted giant pumpkin, giant squash, giant marrow, rutabaga, radish, several tomato plants, sunflowers, and some other plants he hopes will show signs of being potential record setters.

Culp will continue to grow this summer in Sierra Vista's more temperate climate with hopes of beating his record tomato from last season.  "I have two more attempts I can make for the Virtual competition, then I hope to have one more giant tomato for the Cochise Country Fair, then one for the State Fair."

"It all depends upon the weather," said Culp.  "And there need to be some mega blooms."
Rick Johnson, of Paradise Valley, got a late start of the spring season and finally pollinated his first-ever pumpkin just before the scheduled May weigh-off.  Rather than walk away from his effort, Johnson continued to nurse his pumpkin along for another six weeks after the Spring Giant Vegetable Championships. 

Temperatures during the last half of May and June were well in excess of 100 degrees.  Experienced Arizona gardeners would typically agree the temperatures were too much for a giant pumpkin.  However, Johnson was growing his pumpkins on the north side of his house and kept them shaded - and well watered.

"I wasn't really trying to set a record," said Johnson.  "I just wanted to see if I could grow a giant pumpkin."

Finally, on June 29, Johnson arranged to have the AZGPG floor scale brought to his house and have his pumpkins weighed.  Johnson's largest entry weighed 367.5 pounds and he is now the year-to-date leader for the heaviest pumpkin in Arizona.

To enter a giant vegetable in the competition, a gardener needs to contact the AZGPG by email at GrowEmBig@AZGPG.COM to arrange a time and place to weigh the entry.  An AZGPG representative will assist the grower weigh, or measure, their giant vegetable as required. 

"Man, It Got Hot Early!"
  Spring Championships Are A Tale of Survival

You know what they say about the best laid plans?  Well, this year they were undone by Mother Nature.  She came early -- and hot!

Seven brave souls started the season back in January in hopes of bringing a new Arizona record to the scale. 

Talk about Arizona's challenging weather! If you think it's been a hot year, so far, you are right. Yet, seven Central Arizona growers attempted to overcome the high heat with hopes of breaking the State Record for growing a giant pumpkin. The Phoenix area experienced its second hottest weather on record for the first 4 1/2 months of the year; and the results were to be expected. When it gets too hot, the plants slow down; and, it becomes impossible to grow the heavy pumpkins that people read about each fall -- when the rest of North America grows its giants.

This years event included five pumpkins grown by three growers. The largest pumpkin was grown by Dean Baker (Scottsdale) with a 315 pound Atlantic Giant pumpkin. Baker, who holds the current Arizona record at 486 pounds said, "There's not much you can do when you have as many 100 degree days as we've had the past two months."

The 4th Annual Spring Giant Vegetable Championships was held at Sea of Green, 1828 E. University, Tempe. This was the first year that Justin Cosgrove, and the staff of the urban garden center, have hosted the event. Sea of Green was able to offer AZGPG a larger venue and some much needed technical support to help the Championships as it grows as an event. Cosgrove said he looks forward to working with the AZGPG and offering more opportunities to gardeners wanting to grow healthier -- and bigger -- vegetables in the future.

The event did give growers plenty of opportunity to talk about what the season could have been.  Giant vegetable competitions are more about sharing ideas than being about the prizes.  Hearing the growers talk about their growing season; you notice how they listen to each other and discuss how they can possibly grow an even bigger vegetable next season.  There's plenty of talk about soil, watering, feeding, disease prevention, and mother nature to keep the conversation going for hours.

Rosie Witteg (Queen Valley) was the "Rookie" star of the event. Her pumpkin weighed in at 107.5 pounds, which placed her third in the weigh-off. Her pumpkin was not a fully developed pumpkin.  It was only 41 days after pollination (dap). Sadly, it was the replacement for her original choice on the 1767 Wallace 2015 plant. Her first pumpkin was measuring about the same (if not bigger than) Baker's winning pumpkin. However, it rolled back over its main and snapped off the vine. Rosie said, "I learned a lot about pumpkins this year, and I'm ready to grow a record-setter next year."

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The AZGPG is a community of giant pumpkin, and giant vegetable, growers helping each other succeed in our hobby.  Facebook presents us the opportunity to share what's going on with our giant fruits and vegetables.  

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