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Good Question: How Do Farmers Grow Giant Pumpkins?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Just outside Buffalo, Minn., lives a man who is truly out of his gourd. Bill Foss has grown several award-winning, record-breaking pumpkins. The world record was just measured in Stillwater, grown by a Wisconsin man. So how do people grow enormous pumpkins?

“This is where they start,” said Foss, from the basement of his family’s farmhouse, in a pumpkin lab of sorts.

The hum of a fan fills the room, drying out a batch of Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds. These are seeds from past record-winners.

“We keep track of the mother, the father, grandparents and everything just like horseracing does,” said Foss. “If you’re in this, you talk numbers — 846 is someone’s seed and it’s crossed. We sit and talk numbers. Nobody else knows what we’re talking about.”

Foss’ son, Ryan, created a documentary called “Bill’s Big Pumpkins.” The film chronicles Foss’ effort to create a record-breaking pumpkin. An incredible time-lapse scene took pictures every minute in July, August and September 2005, tracking one pumpkin from nothing, all the way to 970 pounds.

“It’s not really a crazy, it’s an obsession,” said Foss.

What are the ingredients to a huge pumpkin? The first is time. Foss said he’s in the field every day, spending a half-hour per plant.

“If you plant eight plants, you’re out there four hours a night,” he explained. “There’s a lot of nurturing and a lot of pruning and baring the vines.”

Normal vines produce a lot of pumpkins. Foss said he wants all the energy pumped into just one. In the spring, he builds a roof over it, trying to keep it warm and protected.

“At night we’re out there covering it with blankets to keep it warm when it gets cold. I’m out there every morning taking blankets off,” said Foss.

His biggest pumpkin was a state record in 2006, weighing-in at just over 1200 pounds.

That’s been broken several times. In 2008, Chad Revier took the Minnesota title with a pumpkin weighing 1,427.5 pounds.

In early October 2010, the world record was demolished by Chris Stevens from New Richmond, Wis.

He drove his pumpkin to New York City and showed it off on national TV’s “Regis & Kelly.”

“It grows about 40 pounds a day for a month straight. It’s incredible,” Stevens told Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.

Stevens said he had “a secret” to growing huge pumpkins.

But Foss said the secret is really in creating the perfect soil. He goes for a loamy soil with a lot of organic matter. He feeds the pumpkin and the soil fish powder, seaweed (“seaweed contains a lot of micronutrients”), humic acid and some weird bionutrient fungi stuff.

“It’s very intense,” said Foss.

He said that anyone could grow a 200- to 300-pound pumpkin using a really good seed, but to grow a giant pumpkin it takes babying.

“It doesn’t happen by accident,” said Foss.

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