Good gourd: Olympia man's 2,191-pound pumpkin takes top prize in famed weigh-off
Author's note: I chose this as one of my favorites of 2021 because I love stories about charming and dedicated people who have fun hobbies and earnest approaches to life. And I learned a little bit more about pumpkins! — Mayowa Aina
Giant pumpkins are a fixture of the fall. And this year the certified giant-est one belongs to Jeff Uhlmeyer, a retired Washington State DOT pavement engineer from Olympia.
Uhlmeyer has been growing pumpkins off and on since 2009.
“What really got my interest was going out to the Puyallup Fair and going out there and seeing those giant pumpkins and looking at those and seeing them getting bigger and bigger. And that always intrigued me. So I said, 'I can do that.’”
This year, the hobby paid off. Uhlmeyer grew a gargantuan gourd weighing in at 2,191 pounds and won the 2021 Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay, California — and almost $20,000.
While pumpkins are dynamic fruits that can grow up to 50 pounds a day, it wasn't an easy growing season. Uhlmeyer thought he would lose the prize-winning pumpkin during the heat wave that struck the state this summer.
“But this was a strong grower,” Uhlmeyer said. “It peaked out early, and it wasn't the biggest pumpkin at the competition, but it certainly had a lot of internal growing.”
Uhlmeyer trucked the fruit from his patch of land just south of Olympia to the contest in California. He said winning is very satisfying.
“Half Moon Bay is the premier, in my opinion, weigh-off on the West Coast,” Uhlmeyer said. “I never planned to win that, by any means. I just planned to grow some pumpkins. But when you get one that size, you have to take it down to a weigh-off and take the gamble that you might win.”
The key to growing a massive pumpkin, Uhlmeyer said, is a good seed and good soil.
“It (also) takes good friends, and it takes good collaboration. And it basically takes a lot of love on your pumpkin just to watch it throughout the season to let the pumpkin tell you what it needs.”
As for the fate of the pumpkin, Uhlmeyer wouldn’t recommend eating anything that size.
"They're pretty pulpy, and I don't think they have much flavor,” he explained.
Usually the contest would keep the pumpkin to display but the associated festival was canceled this year. So Uhlmeyer’s pumpkin went to a friend who will display it in other venues.
And there must be something in that Thurston County soil. Cindy Tobeck, also from Olympia, came in fourth in the contest with a 1,738-pound entry.