Local pumpkin grower reaches fame and fortune

By Jill Severn

Jeff Uhlmeyer rose to fame and fortune this fall growing a pumpkin.

Uhlmeyer’s 2,191-pound pumpkin, grown just south of Olympia, took first place at the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Just over a week ago.

Uhlmeyer, a retired Washington State Department of Transportation pavement engineer who now works for a private sector company, started growing giant pumpkins in 2009. But over time he began to fear that his pumpkin-growing hobby grows in a greenbelt behind his home in Olympia. , which could annoy its neighbors. To solve this problem, he moved to a four-and-a-half-acre location just south of town with over four feet of deep sandy loam, and expanded his pumpkin patch to 12,000 square feet.

Solving problems, he says, is what engineers do. And he approaches pumpkin cultivation as “another problem to be solved.” Its approach is “seek, practice, try again, continue to refine the practice”.

He starts his carefully selected seed in April in shelters. He tests his soil and his list of soil amendments includes bone meal, gypsum, and alfalfa meal. It pollinates pumpkins with a different variety of seed, as do other competitive growers. (All of their pumpkin parents are listed on the bigpumpkins.com website weighing page.)

Then he weeds, he waters, he waits, and he watches, and “let the pumpkin tell me what it needs.” In the summer heatwave, he was worried too – so he erected a shelter to protect it from the sun and provided fans.

This year he grew eight Giants, of which the winner, whom he named Steve, was the tallest. He had previously won two third place prizes in other competitions, one for a pumpkin that weighed 1,936 pounds and the other that weighed 1,760 pounds. But this year Steve has passed the one-ton mark.

How, I asked him, do you get a pumpkin that weighs over a ton out of the field and in Half Moon Bay, California?

“First you grow it, then figure out how to get it out of the field,” he said with a chuckle.

This technical feat involved a large tripod hoist, tractor, and four-wheel-drive forklift to load it onto a flatbed trailer. Then the pumpkin, resting on a carpet, was swaddled in blankets, tightly wrapped in a tarp, and neatly tied to the tray for its fateful journey.

Winning, Uhlmeyer said, brought him “a whole week of glory. Most people only have 15 minutes. His victory was widely covered by the media, including the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

His first prize was just under $ 20,000 and he sold Steve the award-winning pumpkin to a carver.

He became an advocate of his hobby of growing giant pumpkins; he says the Pacific Northwest Giant Pumpkin Growers club needs more members. And he gives this advice to potential growers: “What you need is good soil, good seeds, good friends and a lot of collaboration.

There is a whole world of competitive market gardening; pumpkins and other squash may be the most publicized, but cabbage, beets, onions, and green peppers are contenders in some contests the bigger the better. And competing in the larger category of green peppers wouldn’t require a hoist, forklift, or, for that matter, an engineer.

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