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Feature Stories

You Can Do It

Most of us in these parts don’t know much about agriculture. Daffodils, arborvitae and tomatoes, sure. But to personally grow something the size of a cow? (Or to put it in a Long Island context, the size of one of those cute little Fiats?) That’s not in our suburban DNA.

But you can. In fact, you should try growing a giant pumpkin. A humongous, outrageous and nearly Godzilla-size gourd/squash that will wow everyone around you, and you will remember for the rest of your sentient existence. I’ve done it, and it is just about the most fun you can have in your backyard without disturbing the neighbors.

What is so astounding is that giant-pumpkin husbandry doesn’t require acreage nor a thumb that’s especially green. My backyard is half the size of a tennis court, and the pumpkins never covered more than half of that.


Well, our reporter Kristin Cacchioli recently spoke with Long Island’s own giant-pumpkin champ, Scott Armstrong of Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, and Armstrong insists that everyone has the ability to grow a really big pumpkin on their first try — no question.

Armstrong began growing pumpkins in 1998. He bought a book, and by the end of the summer grew a pumpkin that was almost 700 pounds — a big deal since no one on Long Island had yet broken 700.

“I’m not a magical gardener or anything, but I got lucky,” said Armstrong.

This past season, he got even luckier, with a pair of giants weighing 1,279 and 983 pounds.

As he sees it, you need these ingredients:

• Seeds with an impressive lineage

• Soil in optimum shape

• The weather on your side (sorry, you have no control here)

• Adequate water supply

• A small pot for inside

• A mini-greenhouse outside

• Perseverance

Armstrong finds the perfect seeds online. The Internet is abuzz with giant-pumpkin advice and supplies. He tracks seeds’ lineages, discovering which ones yielded the biggest pumpkins and which will give him the highest chance of winning the Hicks Nurseries pumpkin-growing contest each year (held the first Sunday of October).

“Once I’ve made my decision, I start the seed inside the house and then transfer it outside to a mini greenhouse sort of thing. Then, it is important to take on normal gardening practices, like watering, weeding and keeping the plant as healthy as possible,” Armstrong said. Pumpkins grow rapidly, up to 40 pounds per day, so once they get started, it’s easy to track your progress.

Armstrong typically grows one or two pumpkins a year, but last year he tried three. The weather and all other conditions were the same for all three seeds, but only one resulted in his biggest pumpkin ever.

“For whatever reason, one of the seeds just responded very vigorously to the weather and my previously prepared soil. The outcome is related to each individual seed, so you never know what you are going to get,” he said.

Find the proper seed, and if you carefully follow standard gardening procedures, he said, the rest is left in control of nature.

That, by the way, is the mantra of agriculture.