Neighbors carefully guarding giant pumpkin
Matt McConkie uncovers his estimated 1100-pound pumpkin at his garden in Washington Terrace Monday, Sept. 20, 2010. He and Tyler Quigley are growing huge pumpkins for a competition on Sept. 25 at Thanksgiving Point. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Erin Hooley)

WASHINGTON TERRACE -- What may be Utah's biggest pumpkin lies in an undisclosed location guarded by surveillance cameras, nurtured with loving care by a grower who hand-pollinated it, studied its genealogy, fed it only the best organic foods and sheltered it from storm and sun.

Despite all that, it is one of the uglier pumpkins you will encounter: pale yellow, streaked, misshapen, rather blob-like.

But it is big.

"We go for size," said its grower, Matt McConkie.

This is take-no-prisoners pumpkin growing. McConkie and his Mountain Green neighbor Tyler Quigley spent the last year raising what they hope are the biggest pumpkins the state of Utah has ever seen.

To that end: They took a five-year lease on a vacant lot in Washington Terrace because it has a longer growing season than Mountain Green.

They installed an irrigation system, built a shed and put up security cameras. They make visiting reporters promise not to tell where this lot is.

A year ago, they tilled 100 tons of manure and mulch into the ground.

This spring, they planted carefully selected pumpkin seeds that can sell for as much as $500 each.

As the pumpkins grew, they were shaded with tents. This keeps the sun off, so the hulls stay soft as they grow, and protects the fruit from hail.

Each man started eight plants, sprouting carefully chosen Atlantic Giant seeds. They selected the best pumpkin on each vine and cut off the rest.

Most of the eight fell to weather, disease or disaster, but as of Monday, Quigley had two left and McConkie one.

Quigley's two pumpkins, each growing on its own 750 square feet of ground, are 600 and 900 pounds. McConkie's lone survivor estimates out to 1,100 pounds.

McConkie said his pumpkin is gaining 10 pounds a day. If it tops 1,104 pounds when it is officially weighed Saturday, it will be a new state record.

McConkie and Quigley aren't just raising pumpkins for fun, of course. That would be silly. They are members of the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers, which is offering a $1,000 prize for the biggest pumpkin grown this year.

The current record of 1,104 pounds was set in 2006 by Kenny Blair, of Bountiful. The bar has risen very high, very fast: The 1990 record was 132 pounds, a fruit size that would just draw scorn today.

"There's no secret in growing them," McConkie said. "We put hefty amounts of manure in the soil, so it's all organic as far as feed goes."

Plus, they spray the growing pumpkins with emulsified fish meal and seaweed, which has natural growth hormones.

Why do grown men raise pumpkins? Quigley, who is in his first year, blamed McConkie for inspiring him by growing a 286-pound monster in the front yard.

McConkie started growing pumpkins three years ago because "they're just really fun to grow. It's just gardening at another level."

The pumpkins were harvested Friday and, thanks to a friend with a truck and crane, hauled to Thanksgiving Point, where the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers ( officially weighed all comers.

And now what?

Quigley hopes to display his at Mountain Green Elementary School. His and McConkie's kids go to school there, so the pumpkins will be a great show-and-tell. After that, he plans for the gourds to go to Hogle Zoo for its Thanksgiving Day Feast for the Beasts.

McConkie has other plans.

"I'm going to drop mine from a crane just to watch it splat."

Charles F. Trentelman writes for the Standard-Examiner.

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