When a Wyoming pumpkin steals the show at a noted Utah pumpkin festival, it’s a big deal.
Worland’s pumpkin prince Jay Richard returned triumphant after a weekend in Logan, Utah, where his massive pumpkin named “Marion” won the first Center Street Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.
“Everybody has their 15 minutes, and that one was mine,” Richard told Cowboy State Daily, adding that despite growing some other gargantuan gourds in the past, Marion so for is “probably the pinnacle of everything I’ve done up to this point.”
The final weight? Marion tipped the scales at 1,784 pounds, making it — currently — the second-largest pumpkin ever grown in Wyoming. The largest was an 1,854-pound beast grown by Andy Corbin last year.
The First First Place
Thousands of people attended the Center Street Pumpkin Festival whereRichard said Marion was treated like a celebrity and the star of the show.
“Marion was beautiful,” he said. “I’ll bet she had 1,000 people get their picture taken with her down there. There was literally a line for about three hours. There were more people at that festival than there are in Worland.”
For his first-place pumpkin, Richard received $3,000 and a “traveling trophy” in the form of a massive championship belt. His name will be the first engraved on as the festival’s first winner. And pushing 1,800 pounds, it may be awhile before anyone comes in with a bigger pumpkin, unless Richard does himself.
Wyoming dominated the festival. Ron Hoffman, a pumpkin grower from Riverton who traveled to the festival with Richard, placed third with a 1,395-pound entry.
“It was a great day,” Hoffman said. “For two Wyoming people to go into Utah and take first and third, I’m going to reach over my right shoulder and pat myself on the back. We did good.”
Both were grown from seeds from the same Wyoming-grown pumpkin, a 900 Corbin grown by Corbin, the current state record holder. Richard suspects Corbin is growing a new state record pumpkin this year, but Corbin so far is staying tight-lipped about it.
Richard believes he is in a lucky position. He expects the Center Street Pumpkin Festival will become one of the preeminent pumpkin events in the region, so it’ll be a lot harder to take first.
But this year, Marion reigned supreme.
Giant Gourd Growing
Richard spent months meticulously watching as two massive pumpkins grew in his custom-built greenhouse. It was the first year he attempted growing in a controlled environment, as opposed to the traditional outdoor pumpkin patch, where he found success and a passion for the process.
The greenhouse was built with the goal of growing a 2,000-pound pumpkin. While he didn’t hit that this growing season, Richard isn’t losing any sleep over it.
“That was the ultimate goal, not the first-year goal,” he said. “I did some things right, and I did some things wrong. I learned a lot and I’m getting ready for next year.”
One of the keys to growing massive pumpkins is good soil balance, something Richard knew he wouldn’t achieve in his first year of greenhouse growing. It can take five years of growing pumpkin plants for the soil to have the right balance of nutrients to get giants growing.
Still, nobody’s arguing with the results. At 1,784 pounds, Marion is the largest pumpkin Richard has ever grown. “Joanie,” the second pumpkin growing in the greenhouse, reached 1,500 pounds this week.
Richard could have pushed Marion to grow even larger. However, when a crack formed in the thinnest part of the pumpkin, he stopped watering it nine days before the weigh-off in Logan.
“If I had kept my foot on the floor, I might have caught the state record,” he said. “I might have split it open and disqualified it. So, I played it safe.”
It was a good call. Marion survived the truck ride to Logan intact and qualified for the weigh-off.
Look Out Below!
The next big date for Richard is the annual Wyoming State Pumpkin Championship Weigh-Off in Worland on Oct. 7. Marion will make an appearance while Joanie and another giant named “Old Leather,” Richard’s third pumpkin now growing in his old pumpkin patch, will be weighed.
There’s still a goal Richard hopes to reach this season. If the combined weight of his three pumpkins is over 4,300 pounds, he’ll receive the Grower Gen2 Jacket Award from the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. It’s the pumpkin grower’s equivalent of the Professional Golf Association’s Master’s Jacket.
Pumpkins can’t be weighed until they are harvested, he said, so the best way to get a weight estimate on a pumpkin is to measure it.
Richard wasn’t too surprised by Marion’s weight, which was only a few pounds from from the estimates he got from measuring it. He believes he’s crossed the 4,300-pound line, but he won’t know until Oct. 7.
“When that last pumpkin gets on the scale, there’ll be a lot of sweat on my hands,” he said.
But the greatest thrill is watching the next generation of pumpkin growers see the fruits of their labor.
“I get more excited about a 12-year-old kid growing a 400-pound pumpkin than I do me growing a few thousand-pounds one,” he said. “I’m very pleased, but to see the excitement in a kid’s face when they grow a pumpkin as big as they are, there’s such a legitimate happiness there that’s awesome.”
Old Leather’s Fate Is Sealed
Getting weighed will be Old Leather’s last great feat before making an ascent of 200 feet and becoming the heaviest pumpkin ever dropped in Worland. Young’s Camper Repair has donated a motorhome to be placed under the 1,300-pound pumpkin. It’ll be obliterated when Old Leather drops on it.
Marion will be on display at the Wyoming State Pumpkin Championship Weigh-Off even though it's in “retirement.” Richard is keeping his award-winning pumpkin “cool but not frozen” before it fulfills its final purpose.
“The plan is to carve it,” he said. “Ryan Green, our master carver, will carve it in front of Blairs (in Worland) the week before Halloween.”
There’s Always Next Year
So far, 2023 has been the most successful year in Richard’s pumpkin-growing career. Yet, he’s already planning next year’s gargantuan gourds.
The plant that grew Marion has been stripped out of the soil in the greenhouse. Richard will take soil samples over the next several months before he plants his chosen seeds in Spring 2024 to make sure he’s as close to balanced as possible.
“The soil will be in a lot better shape next year. It doesn’t happen overnight. Soil works slowly and has a lot of time on its hands,” he said.
He’s learned a lot from his growing experience and by talking to other growers and he knows he can do better in 2024.
So, will there be a 2,000-pound pumpkin in Worland next fall?
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll say it. We’ll get there.”