Visitors Flock To Pumpkinfest

NEW BREMEN ­— Frequent watering, soil preparation and a slight obsession are all key ingredients that help grow giant pumpkins.

Pumpkin enthusiasts and scores of visitors converged on the Crown Pavilion to catch a glimpse of the giant gourds that easily surpassed 1,000 pounds as part of the 2011 New Bremen Pumpkinfest. The two-day event featured its traditional pumpkin weigh-off as well as a regatta, a pumpkin-smashing monster truck and a bake-off.

“It’s going good, we’ve got a good crowd,” Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Frey told The Evening Leader. “We’ve got a film crew from the Weather Channel filming the proceedings and we are really excited about the day.”

Rain showers early Saturday morning did little to deter a crowd from packing the area near the Miami and Erie Canal in downtown New Bremen. Frey said visitors were eager to get a chance to see the giant gourds.

“People are still rolling in and we have all the fun events that people want to check out this afternoon,” Frey said. “I think it’s still bringing the crowd down.”

In the past seven years, the festival has grown from a modest weigh-off to a two-day event that features a slew of activities and events for visitors. Frey said the growth has helped the festival expand each year.

“The first year, was just a weigh-off and every year they have gotten a little bit bigger and expanded,” Frey said. “We try to out do ourselves every year with something a little bit more crazy and exciting. With that in mind, they threw in the monster truck smashing cars and pumpkins.”

Last year, the organizers centered the festival around the world record pumpkin pie. This year, Frey said it was difficult to top that but the events featured something for everyone.

“It’s hard to top that — how do you top a 20-foot pie,” Frey said. “That’s why we felt like with the monster truck, it was something in a whole different area that would get a little buzz going around it.”

A film crew captured much of the event for a feature that will air at 9 p.m. Oct. 17 on the Weather Channel. The program will countdown some of the country’s best ways to have fun with pumpkins.

“We are pretty excited about that,” Frey said.

Gregory Dayfield, of Brownstown, Mich., made the 160 mile trek to take part in the pumpkin weigh-off. The 15-year-old said his uncle got him involved in growing pumpkins.

“I’ve been doing it for three years,” Dayfield said. “There’s a lot of water and a lot of hard work.”

Last year, Dayfield grew a pumpkin that weighed more than 900 pounds. On Saturday, he brought a pumpkin that weighed more than 650 pounds. The weigh-off was Dayfield’s first visit to New Bremen.

“There’s a lot of people and a lot of big pumpkins,” he said.

Sidney resident Josh Scherer brought along a pumpkin and briefly held first place during the weigh-off with a 1,020 pound pumpkin. Scherer said he’s been growing giants for five years.

“My neighbor started growing them a year before me and I just saw him doing it and thought it was kind of neat,” Scherer said. “It’s a lot of work in getting the soil prepped just right. My first year I had 222 pounds and last year was my best at 1,125 pounds. It’s mostly in the soil preparation.”

Loading a 1,000 pound pumpkin is no easy task. Scherer said he uses a tractor to help get his gourds to the festival, which he has attended for five years.

“They’ve got more things going on here,” Scherer said. “A lot of the weigh-offs are in a parking lot or a nursery. They’ve got more activities and things to do.”

After all the pumpkins were weighed, Jeff Zoellner, of Clayton, took home the top prize with a pumpkin that registered 1,370 pounds. Zoellner attributed his success to attention to detail.

“I have a green thumb, I grew up on a farm and I needed a hobby — I don’t golf,” Zoellner said, noting he’s been growing pumpkins for five years. “It’s an obsessive-compulsive behavior from the beginning of the season to the end.”

Zoellner planted the seeds that would produce his giant pumpkin in April. He harvested it Friday night and started the two-hour journey to New Bremen.

“The toughest part is just fighting the elements, the diseases, the weather,  it’s just like any other type of farming,” Zoellner said. “It’s at an extreme level.”

The event was Zoellner’s first visit to New Bremen. He praised organizers for putting on a high-quality event.

“It’s great, I really like it,” Zoellner said. “I think it has great potential for the future, too. It’s the nicest one I’ve been to. There are more activities going on and more to do.”