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The Great Pumpkin Float

Charity Rusch Marshall paddled a pumpkin 15 miles.

Charity Rusch Marshall paddled a pumpkin 15 miles. Charity Rusch Marshall

DALLAS — Andy Hendersen has been growing giant pumpkins for almost a decade, but this year he raised something unique in his prized pumpkin patch.

His 919.5-pound giant didn’t make its way into the record books — not by weight anyway.

“My biggest was 1,250.5 pounds,” he said. “They can get up to well over 2,000 pounds.”

His “small,” big pumpkin still was destined for greatness — not on a scale, but on a river.

Hendersen says, with more than a little irony, that the world of giant pumpkin enthusiasts is small. He often sees the same people at annual weigh-ins and other events.

This fall at a Bauman Farm and Garden’s weigh-in, Hendersen connected with Charity Rusch Marshall, another competitive grower, who was tracking down a record of her own. She picked Hendersen’s carefully cultivated gourd as an option for her pursuit of a Guinness World Record in river floating in a pumpkin boat.

Yep, Marshall, who is from Washington, intended to float in a hollowed-out pumpkin for longer than the record of eight miles. She embarked on the journey on Oct. 9 on the Cowlitz River near Longview, Wash.

The seed for her river adventure vessel was planted months before — and really, Hendersen’s knack for raising giants began many years before that.

“The first year was a friendly competition with a neighbor,” Hendersen explained. “It’s become a hobby.”

Growing ginormous pumpkins isn’t just about putting the seeds — worth $200 to $300 apiece — in the dirt and adding water and fertilizer.

Hendersen said the soil in the patch needs to contain the correct nutrients and the amount of water should be managed.

Everything needs to be perfectly balanced to prevent the fast-growing pumpkins from splitting, a significant risk when at the peak of the season they gain 30 to 50 pounds per day.

“I’ve had some really good ones that have split halfway through the season,” Hendersen said.

Then there’s the thing that every farmer worries about — the weather.

This season, with warm days and cooler nights, was not ideal for growing record-breaking pumpkins, Hendersen said.

He gave his pumpkin patch a break for the 2015, and has been kicking himself because the long, warm summer last year created “a perfect storm” for raising giants.

The pumpkin sabbatical had him eager to get growing again this year, which worked not only in his favor, but Marshall’s too.

She shattered the previous record on Oct. 9, floating an incredible 15 miles in the pumpkin grown right here in Polk County.

Hendersen is eager to introduce others to his hobby, freely willing to part with advice and something much more valuable.

“I would even offer a free seed to anyone who was interested,” he said.

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