By Kristie Hamon
Jonathan Williams is a senior criminal justice major from Lexington, who has a talent for growing giant pumpkins. Not just large pumpkins, but 942-pound pumpkins.And, he has been growing giant pumpkins in his backyard in Lexington for three years now.
This year, he entered his 942-pound pumpkin in three state fairs – Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee’s and won second place in all three.
Williams was inspired to start growing pumpkins by his girlfriend’s grandfather. He began researching online how to do it, and then set to work.
During the summer, Williams works a full-time job then goes home to farm at least four hours a day, just for one plant.
“It’s not as easy as most people think,” he said.
Williams said it is important that you make sure there are no weeds at all. He has to spray the pumpkin every day to prevent disease and insects from harming the pumpkin.
“What can go wrong, will go wrong,” Williams said.
Williams uses a special organic fertilizer called Monty’s fertilizer, and plants a cover crop every year after he harvests his pumpkins to renew the soil for the next time.
To grow these giant pumpkins, Williams starts in April with a greenhouse and heater to keep the pumpkin warm, and works daily with the pumpkin through August for about 150 days. Williams even said that he covers the pumpkin with a sheet to keep it warm or place a lawn chair over it to block the sun on hot days.
Constant 85-degree weather and a lot of sunlight are the ideal conditions for growing a giant pumpkin, Williams said, though he said the best pumpkins grow up north where it’s cooler. “Kentucky is too hot and there is not enough sunlight,” he said.
An advantage Williams sees to growing pumpkins in his backyard is that the bushes and trees block the wind. Also, he said, you get the advantage of it being warmer in the city at night.
Williams said a disadvantage is that with the trees, you don’t get as much sunlight.
Williams said it’s all about the seed and good genetics.
In order to grow giant pumpkins you have to get a proven seed, which is the seed from a pumpkin that has reached a giant-sized weight, and mix it with another good seed. He said it’s important that you pollinate your own pumpkin so that you know that it has good genes.
As his pumpkin grows, Williams has to pull the female or smaller pumpkins off.
It takes 1,000 square feet to grow one pumpkin, and the main vine alone can grow six inches a day.
“It’s not easy, you have to make it grow. It takes a lot of luck, water spray, lots of little things,” he said.
Williams said that in order to move the giant pumpkin, he has to use a lifting ring, which is a steel cone shaped structure that he attaches straps to, to hoist the pumpkin off the ground without smashing it.
Williams, as one of the youngest growers in the competition at age 21, won $700 in Ohio, $50 in Kentucky and $400 in Tennessee. He said that the amount of money he made from the fairs was hardly enough to cover what he has put into the pumpkin.
“It’s not about the money, that’s for sure.”
Williams said the most fun is driving the pumpkin to the fair.
“One rule, don’t stop at a rest area,” he said.
He said people stop what they are doing to take pictures and lean out of cars with big fancy cameras everywhere they go to get a glimpse of the giant pumpkin.
The pumpkin now sits at Baldwin Farms in Richmond where anyone can visit anytime for free. Williams said that he is going to save his pumpkin seeds because they have good genes and could be worth a lot.
Williams said he will probably plant and harvest a giant pumpkin again next year, but would like to just enter it in the Kentucky State Fair.
Unfortunately, the Kentucky State Fair is not GPC certified, meaning it doesn’t keep an official record of the weight of the pumpkins. Williams said he wants to go to a GPC certified competition and can only enter his pumpkin in one GPC certified competition a year, and right now out of Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, Ohio is the only one that is GPC certified.
Williams also grows tomatoes, habanera peppers and bodacious corn, but doesn’t enter them in contests. He said they’re just for eating.