As he draws back the shroud from his monstrous creation, Neptune, Jeff Pelletier erupts in almost maniacal laughter. Hard to tell if it’s genuine or for effect.
For years, the mad horticulturalist of Queensbury has been growing pumpkins that would make Linus Van Pelt swoon, but this year’s is gourdgantuan – even by his standards.
“I'm thinking it's going to be somewhere between 1,300 and 1,400 pounds, which would be the biggest ever grown in North Vancouver,” he said. “Anything over 1,350 it will go in the top 10 of all time in B.C.”
On Saturday, a crane and flatbed will arrive early in the morning and truck Neptune off to B.C.’s official Great Pumpkin Commonwealth weigh-off at Krause Berry Farms in Langley. For the first time, the B.C. competition has corporate sponsorship. Urban Roots Garden Market is going to pay the winner $1 per pound.
“This is going to start putting our competition on the map in the Pacific Northwest,” Pelletier said.
To earn the title of pump-king, it’s a combination of genetics and growing conditions. Much like horse racing, growers will pay top dollar for a seed that came from a champion. Pelletier’s seeds from previous years have been sold all over the world. Pelletier said he’s heard of individual seeds going for as much as $700, but Neptune’s seed came much cheaper. Pelletier gambled $50 he could germinate the seed of a 2,008-pound pumpkin that won a 2014 competition in Ohio.
“They had opened an old seed vault that they must have forgotten about and they found some of these older seeds,” he said. “I'm pretty confident in my seed germinating abilities and I had known already that this seed had produced quite a few big pumpkins. It's considered a proven seed.”
Neptune got off to a great start with a warm, dry spring, but the two heat waves this summer were a challenge. Pelletier had to go outside in the heat of the day to mist his pumpkins.
“Pumpkins like it warm but that was obviously way too warm,” he said. “What it caused was just a bit more stress on the plant.”
On Oct. 17, Neptune has a date with a carver at It’s About Thyme Nursery in Burnaby. Other orange giants find themselves in demand elsewhere. Corporate hotels and grocery stores will pay upwards of $1 per pound to use a giant pumpkin in their seasonal displays.
Pelletier’s mentors, former North Vancouver residents Glenn and Andrea Dixon, are donating their 1,200-pounder to Ronald McDonald House “just because of how many smiles they bring.”
Eventually though, even the greatest pumpkin winds up as compost or pig slop.
But there’s always next year, and Pelletier is hoping to see even heftier competition. He has promised all of Neptune’s seeds to Urban Roots, which plans to sell them pre-germinated next spring and match buyers with mentors like Pelletier who can help grow them.
“We’re trying to build the sport,” he said.
Even with Neptune being his personal best, Pelletier said he’s unlikely to win this year’s competition. A fellow pumpkin head in Richmond has one they estimate will weigh in between 1,600 and 1,800 pounds.
It so happens the world record for biggest pumpkin just fell on Sunday. A grower in Italy pumped his up to 2,702.8 pounds.
“Definitely, I would assume he's probably using chemicals and all that fun stuff,” Pelletier said. “I grow organically.”