For months, Jeff Pelletier has been keeping Ella safe from vermin and warm under her blankets.
The Queensbury resident’s giant pumpkin is just days away from the big competition.
But unlike a grudge match in the ring, this tilt ends with the weigh-in. On Saturday, Oct. 6, Pelletier’s backyard will look like a miniature construction site as a crane is brought in to hoist his contenders onto a truck, which will take it to Krause Berry Farms in Langley where the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Competition for B.C. is being held.
May was unseasonably hot, which left many seedlings “fried,” Pelletier said. That was followed by a “June-uary” that was too cold for the pumpkins to be packing on the pounds. Despite the shortened growing season, this year’s entry in the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth competition is still a behemoth.
“To grow what is almost a thousand pounds in two months is pretty amazing,” Pelletier said with a laugh.
Pelletier always names his gargantuan gourds after giants. Past years have included Fridwulfa and Grawp, characters from the Harry Potter series, and Sserpo, “the creature who crushed the earth” from comic books in the 1950s.
This year, Pelletier, who is a professional flutist by day, chose Ella in honour of jazz giant Ella Fitzgerald. He has another smaller one in the soil named Dino after a certain Rat Pack drunk. Perhaps most special, though, is his giant squash Laverne, named for a musician friend who died in the last year. Laverne is likely to be named the biggest squash in B.C., Pelletier predicts.
Ella is a descendent of Sserpo, which won the Howard Dill award for “prettiest pumpkin” at last year’s Skagit Valley pumpkin competition.
Pelletier’s reputation has grown in what is quite literally the seedy underworld of competitive pumpkin growing. Since word of Grawp and Sserpo spread in the media, he’s had international buyers for their seeds, like horse breeders looking to match with a champion stud. “Which is great because you get to see the lineage of your pumpkin continue on in other people’s hands, which is really cool. This year I sent seeds all over – as far as France, the U.K., all over the U.S.,” he said.
After the competition, Ella, Dino and Laverne will be ceded over to expert carvers, who will create works of art to be displayed at It’s About Thyme Nursery in Burnaby. In the end, the three will rejoin the circle of life in a pigs’ trough.
Losing one’s next-of-pump-kin every October may be cause for some grief, Pelletier said, but he’s already looking ahead to the 2019 season and hoping to sprout more homegrown competition.
“If anyone’s interested in growing, I’ve got seeds and I can provide all the tutelage needed,” he said.