On a farm just off Highway 20, in the Skagit Valley north of Mount Vernon, Washington, Geoff Gould opens up the doors to a barn.
Gould is 57 years old with a little bit of gray at his temples. He’s wearing glasses and his boots are covered in mud. Sitting before us, on pallets that somehow hold their weight, are two enormous pumpkins and a squash.
He points to a pumpkin that looks like a deflating beachball. This pumpkin slumped under its own weight, which in the world of competitive pumpkin growing is called "pooching." When Gould says any numbers, he’s talking pounds.
“This is my 748,” Gould said, pointing to one of the pumpkins. “And as you can see it pooched and blobbed. They come in all different shapes and sizes, they really do. We were at a weigh-off last Saturday in Seattle and saw some of the strangest and ugliest things you’d ever want to see.”
When we meet it’s in October. This is the time of year when the weigh-offs happen — the contests to see who has the biggest specimen. This is World Series time for pumpkin and squash growers. In fact, Gould says the entire endeavor follows the baseball season.
“If you want to do it well, you pretty much have no life during that time frame and you get used to that," he says. "You see people getting to do stuff, but you can’t because you’ve got to be at the patch. It just depends on how bad you want it. When you see the big ones, you want it bad.”
During this busy time, Gould drives to Skagit Valley from his home in Kent three times a week. These giants need to be fed and watered. Their vines need to be protected. These nutrient-hungry balls and chains would be a burden to just about anyone else. But not to Gould. He loves all of the time it requires him to spend outside. It’s quiet out here. Gould never gets tired of watching these fruits grow.
“They grow 30 to 50 pounds a day. You can come back in two days and see it’s grown again, enormously. It's fun! It’s addictive!”
We head out into the 3-acre patch that he rents just for growing pumpkins and squash and where some really big ones are still putting on the pounds. There are islands of vines, tangles of green the size of small swimming pools that surround large fruits here and there.
Gould shows me a big pumpkin growing in its very own house that he built from scratch out of tubing and black plastic. This pumpkin tent of sorts is designed to keep the fruit warm, which will help it grow. As an extra measure of insurance, Gould covers his babies with fleece blankets. This squash is probably as big as the hood of your car.
When I meet Gould a few days later at the weigh off outside a grocery store in shoreline, his greenish-gray blob of a squash is on the scale, placed there by a small crane.
The squash topped out at 1216.5 pounds, setting a new state record. He is beaming with pride. For the top prize, he got $850 dollars. Not only did Gould’s squash set a new record, it is officially the sixth largest in the world for this season.
After the contest, the squash spent its remaining days on display outside of the grocery store.
Then, on Nov. 1, the squash’s stationary victory lap came to an end.
Gould reduced his record breaker with a machete and harvested more than 300 seeds. This is how this successful genetic line will continue. Gould left the empty shell in front of the store. The next day the remains were reduced further, with the help of a chain saw — and those pieces were hauled off to a pasture and fed to a herd of cows.