Pumpkins Take Over

NEW BREMEN — A severe drought and 80 mph winds could not keep a handful of giant pumpkin growers from battling for bragging rights at Pumpkinfest on Saturday.

A packed crowd piled into Crown Pavilion to take in pumpkin pie bake-offs, pumpkin pie eating contests and to see some giant pumpkins as part of the annual Pumpkinfest. Jeff Wells, an organizer for the event, said this year’s extreme weather thinned some of the growers at the annual exhibition.

“It’s been fantastic,” Wells said. “We’ve done this for eight years and we’ve never had bad weather ... We had an issue with pumpkins coming this year because of the drought. My pumpkins got devastated with the 80 mph winds in June, so we actually canceled the weigh-off but so many growers  were upset that we canceled it because we only thought there’d be one or two pumpkins. Growers from all over the state of Ohio came in to support us because they love it.”

A lack of rain can play havoc as pumpkins grow into giants. Wells said while municipal supplies can provide water to the pumpkins, the sources often contain elements that can harm the pumpkins.

“There’s nothing better than Mother Nature with the rain,” Wells said.

“You can water it, and with myself I am into New Bremen water. It’s got a lot of chlorine in it and it’s not natural water. It hurts a lot of the good microbes in the soil. The plants also take so much water — pumpkins will drink 60 to 80 gallons a day.”

Wells had pumpkins damaged by the wind storm in June. The high winds ripped the leaves off the plant.

“One plant had 70 percent of its foliage gone,” Wells said.

“The other plant was probably 90. Once the leaves break off like that, you’ll never get it back. It gets disease in there and turns mushy.”

Throughout the years, Pumpkinfest has gained a reputation as being a family friendly event. Each year, the festival has rides for children as well as a slew of food and beverages.

“We are extremely unique,” Wells said. “We give the public stuff they have never seen. We are trying to go now more toward the arts — with the inclusion of the Artisan Showcase.”

Eric Langenkamp, of Wapakoneta, said his wife’s grandmother got him into growing giant pumpkins. Like Wells, Langenkamp said this year’s weather hindered his plants.

“I got started about three years ago,” Langenkamp said, noting he grew a 424 pound pumpkin this year. “The drought had a big impact. I was probably watering twice a day. It was tough ... This year I have five plants started and came out with the wind and only had one. It made them look like a pretzel.”

Saturday was Langenkamp’s second trip to Pumpkinfest. He noted the festival is an opportunity every year to meet and talk with other giant pumpkin growers.

“A good pumpkin grower never gives his secrets,” Langenkamp said. “It’s just a lot of fun meeting people from different places and just talking pumpkins. They never give you their secrets, but they give little tips here and there.”

Tony Vanderpool won the weigh-off with a 764 pound pumpkin. The veteran pumpkin grower said the competition was tough this year.

“It’s hard to win a competition like this,” Vanderpool said. “Especially this year, it was very tough. I actually had one of my better years — I had three this year. I always wanted to bring a big one here and this was the biggest one I’ve ever brought here.”

Despite the drought that affected much of the country, Vanderpool said there are some giant pumpkins — including some record breaking plants.

“The world record was broken last night,” Vanderpool said, noting the pumpkin weighed 2,009 pounds. “The same guy has another fruit that is measuring over 2,200 pounds. So the first one ton pumpkin —  people for years said it would never happen.”