Perspectives Online

4-H agent is state pumpkin champ

Wallace Simmons displays the 854-pound blue-ribbon winner at the State Fair.
Photo by Mark Dearmon

The pumpkin patch at Wallace Simmons' Canton home has only a few pumpkins, but Simmons keeps it that way on purpose. His pumpkins weigh from about 500 to 850 pounds - and he has grown North Carolina's largest pumpkin for the past five years.

A 4-H agent from Haywood County, Simmons won first place at the N.C. State Fair this year with a whopping 854-pound pumpkin. But it is not the largest ever grown in the state. That one weighed 860 pounds, and Simmons grew it as well.

Still, North Carolina's largest pumpkins don't stand a chance in international competition. The longer daylight and cooler nights of more northern climates provide the best growing conditions. This year's world champion, grown in Pennsylvania, tipped the scales at 1,469 pounds, enough to feed pumpkin pie to a small rural town.

Raising a giant pumpkin is no small feat, especially for a 4-H agent with a busy summer schedule of camp, 4-H Congress and activity days. When he's away, Simmons relies on his family to care for the burgeoning pumpkins. "It's hard to get them this big without rotting. You have to treat them like a baby the whole summer," he said.

Simmons said there are three key factors to growing a large pumpkin: good seed, good soil and good luck. Water management is also important, and Simmons says his water bill during pumpkin season will increase by $20 to $120 per month.

"You have to manage the water carefully or your pumpkin will split. Then your pumpkin will be gone for the year," he said.

Simmons gives lessons on seed germination to Haywood school children and other would-be large pumpkin growers. And he will send seed free to those who ask and provide a stamped, addressed bubble pack envelope for shipping.

- Natalie Hampton