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Drought claims some giant victims

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GREENFIELD — Those hoping to catch a glimpse of a “Great Pumpkin” at this year’s Riley Festival will have to wait until next year, just like Linus.

The annual largest-pumpkin contest was canceled this year. The heat and drought of the summer claimed the lives of giant pumpkins around the state, and local growers say their crop was no exception.

The pumpkins, which weigh hundreds of pounds, adorn the Hancock County Courthouse lawn every year at the Riley Festival. Cash prizes are given, but Jerry Bolding, chair of the contest, said nobody entered it this year.

“I sat down there for two hours, and nobody showed up,” said Bolding of the time when the entries were supposed to be hauled in Wednesday.

The winners were supposed to be announced Thursday, with the pumpkins on display the rest of the weekend. While a half dozen or so pumpkins are usually entered every year, Bolding said interest has been waning in recent years as well.

Greenfield resident Pat Hansen grew two pumpkins this year at about 600 pounds each. He had planned to enter into a state contest this weekend, but just last week one of them began rotting out. Then two days ago, another one went bad.

“They split, they get holes in them, they kind of rot out,” said Hansen, known by friends and family as the Pumpkin Man. “You don’t know exactly the reason they do it but I hear it’s been a problem with a lot of growers this year. It must be due to the excessive heat and lack of rain.”

Hansen said once an air hole forms, the pumpkin begins to rot. Because he had planned to enter the state contest this year, he was not going to enter the Riley contest.

Even though he had a couple of strong pumpkins, he shrugged off their demise.

“I’ve grown them long enough to know that happens,” he said.

Local growers say the small jack-o-lantern size pumpkins weren’t as affected by the drought this year because they don’t take as much water as the large ones.

Don Stuck, a New Palestine resident and two-time winner of the Riley Festival pumpkin contest, said he didn’t even plan on entering this year because he didn’t water his pumpkins enough for them to grow to prize-winning size.

“To get those pumpkins to be as big as they are, I don’t know how others do it. Mine, it takes about a quarter inch of water a day,” Stuck said. “You couldn’t in your right mind be pumping a half inch of water out of your well to let your well run dry.”

Stuck, whose largest pumpkin has reached 718 pounds, said he also got off to a late start this year. By the time he began tracking the weather forecast in July and every day was a dry spell, he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up.

Giant pumpkins can grow anywhere from 5 pounds to 25 pounds a day, Stuck said. Just this week a Rhode Island resident broke the Guinness World Record for a pumpkin, weighing over a ton at 2,009 pounds.

Stuck, who plans on entering the Riley contest next year, said the event is his favorite pumpkin contest because it is so close to home.

But this year has been disappointing because autumn is the time he enjoys showing off his gourds.

“Now is the time you can drive around with a big 500-pound pumpkin in your truck,” Stuck said. “Driving around and people say, ‘Oh, wow!’”

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