What does it take for a big pumpkin to win the big prize at the State Fair? A whole lot of work, according to its owner.
Hobert Girdler said he spent at least an hour each morning and more than two hours each afternoon caring for the large-scale pumpkin that would turn out to be Kentucky’s biggest in 2020.
He has to prune the vine – only one pumpkin can be allowed to grow so all of the vine’s energy goes to it – plus he has to spray it to prevent fungus and bugs, because one small black spot can ruin a pumpkin overnight. He has to make sure larger critters haven’t gotten to it (“Bears love them,” he explains), and give it around 55 gallons of water a day.
“On May 31, it was the size of a lemon,” Hobert said. But after 81 days of growth, it ended up weighing in at 1,329 pounds when taken to the Kentucky State Fair in August.
It wasn’t an all-time state record, but it did break the record for the largest winner at the fair, he said. The previous fair record was in 2017, at 1,054 pounds.
The Somerset resident said he’s not a professional farmer – he just grows a selection of giant vegetables in his back yard. And by “Somerset resident” he means just that – his home practically in downtown, at 128 Ashurst Street.
The giant pumpkin currently is on display right in his front yard, surrounded by cutout figures of the Peanuts gang (“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”), made by Hobert’s son, Chris.
Hobert and his wife, Bernice, encourage others to come by and get their pictures taken with it, although Bernice asks that kids not be allowed to climb on it. Not for the pumpkin’s sake – she doesn’t want kids getting hurt.
It takes a lot of luck to grow a record-setting pumpkin, Hobert said. The seed is a “Paton Twin Giant” that came from England. He bought it through the Kentucky Giant Pumpkin Growers, and said that one seed costs $50.
“You just have to take a chance on that one seed,” he said. “But if anyone wanted a seed out of mine, I’d give it to them.”
In fact, he has shipped seeds from previous pumpkins all over the United States, as far away as California. He’s even shipped some back to England.
To get it to the fair, Hobert had the help of Somerset Farm Equipment, which came out with a fork lift to get it in Hobert’s truck.
In the end, being the winner was worth “a dollar a pound,” meaning State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles presented him a check for $1,329.
Bernice quietly adds, “He spent more than that on it.”
Hobert laughed, “You don’t come out ahead.”
Hobert said he hoped that the pumpkin would last till around the first of October. They won’t be using it to cook up Thanksgiving Dinner – Bernice said that because of everything that has to be sprayed on it to keep it healthy while growing, it makes her wary of trying to eat it.
However, she said she has heard of other fair entrants who carve into their giant pumpkins after the contest and make pies out of them.
Winning State Fair competitions runs in Hobert’s family. He said his brother, Bill Girdler, was part of a group that won Best Country Ham two years in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
Bill was part of Haney’s Country Hams, with Buddy Haney, Oscar Epperson and Sammy Isaacs.
Hobert couldn’t remember exactly, but said he thought they won two years in a row.
“Maybe I can win next year, God willing,” he said.