Not anyone can grow a fruit over 1,000 pounds. But Woody Lancaster isn’t just anyone. By Jack Morris. Photograph by Dana Smith.
The one event that arguably draws the most oohs and ahhs at the annual Topsfield Fair is the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off. As chairman of the event and a regular contender, Topsfield’s Woody Lancaster, 63, knows a thing or two about growing this giant fruit, which is often mistaken as a gourd. We sat down with him to see what it takes to become a giant pumpkin grower (hint: it’s a ton of work).
What’s the biggest pumpkin you’veÂ ever grown?
I had one that was 1,101 pounds in 2005 [earning him 8th place]. The world record is 1,689 pounds.
How much time do you put in?
With four plants growing, I usually put in about two hours per day everyday of the week during the growing season, which lasts from April right up until the fairÂ in early October.
What is your favorite part of the Pumpkin Weigh-Off?
Seeing the surprises that come into the fair. We pumpkin-peepÂ all year long and even talk about seed selection in the winter. You sort of know what to expect, but never really know what is going to come through the gate.
Have there ever been any cheaters?
One year, someone decided to inject water into his pumpkin to give it some weight, but it was disqualified because the judges could hear the water sloshing around. They saw a hole, opened it, and found water. Now, no holes are allowed.
Why do you do this?
The first prize at the Topsfield Fair is $3,000, and if you’re from New England, you get an extra $2,500. But if you divide that into all the time and money spent growing the things, it’s usually a wash. I call it a hobby. Wives usually call it an obsession. Most people think we’re crazy.
What do you do with the pumpkins after the fair?
They usually end up in a mulch pile or as jack-o’-lanterns. They’re not pie pumpkins-they have no flavor. The flesh is tastless. I once sold two pumpkins for $3,500. David Letterman usually buys one and blows it up on his show. But in the long run, you’re losing money. We don’t do this for the money. To turn something that starts as the size of a thumbnail into 1,000 pounds is a great feeling.
Topsfield Fair, Topsfield Fairgrounds, Oct. 2-12, 207 Boston St. (Rt. 1), Topsfield, 978-887-5000, topsfieldfair.org