Wyoming’s Pumpkin King Marvels At Colossal 2,749-Pound World Record Pumpkin

Although Wyoming's Pumpkin King, Jay Richard, won three pumpkin-growing championships this year, his pumpkins are still about 1,000 pounds shy of the world record set this year by Minnesota's Travis Gienger. But Jay says he can catch him.

AR
Andrew Rossi

October 15, 20236 min read

Travis Gienger of Minnesota reacts after his pumpkin weighed in at a world-record 2,749 pounds at Monday's world championship weigh-off in Half Moon Bay, California.
Travis Gienger of Minnesota reacts after his pumpkin weighed in at a world-record 2,749 pounds at Monday's world championship weigh-off in Half Moon Bay, California. (Getty Images)

He may be the unofficial Pumpkin King of Wyoming, but in the grand scheme of growing gigantic things, Worland’s Jay Richard is still a prince in waiting.

That’s evident after a weekend that saw Richard win the 2023 Wyoming State Pumpkin Championship Weigh-Off with a hefty 1,399-pound specimen, while his friend and fellow giant pumpkin nerd Travis Gienger of Minnesota set a new world record with a colossal 2,749-pound effort.

Growing giant pumpkins is as much an art as a science. If a 2,700-pound pumpkin is possible in Minnesota, could Wyoming grow the next world-record pumpkin? And if so, could Richard be the one to grow it?

Coming off three first-place finishes in three consecutive weekends, Richard is celebrating a surreal season where he’s also grown pumpkins weighing in at 1,784 and 1,686 pounds. Richard’s state title-winning pumpkin, “Leather Tuscadero,” capped the season Saturday. Then on Monday, Gienger smashed his own world record in Half Moon Bay, California.

Richard said he’s not only aware that Gienger’s at the top of the pumpkin growing food chain, but he picks his brain for tips and techniques for always growing bigger and better.

“I’ve been in contact with him several times over the summer,” he said. “He’s offered me some advice and tips to steer me in the right direction or validate what I’m doing.”

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The Formula

Richard said growing giant pumpkins boils down to three factors: knowledge, time and money. Gienger has three decades of experience growing pumpkins and his horticulture experience has given him an edge in one of the most crucial elements: biologics.

“Biologics are the critters that live in the earth,” Richard said. “The mycorrhizae, fungi and beneficial organisms that live in the soil and make our world possible to live in. If it wasn’t for the top 2 feet of the earth’s crust, we couldn’t survive here. All our food comes from those 2 feet.”

Gienger has developed a well-balanced soil with all the biologics and nutrients needed to grow giant pumpkins. It’s the culmination of decades of work, and there aren’t any shortcuts.

This was the first year Richard grew pumpkins in his custom-built greenhouse with what he said as yet has “not very good soil.” He anticipates the soil in the greenhouse will be “good” with the right biology in place after five years of cultivation and growing pumpkin plants.

The Seed Is Strong

One might think a possible shortcut to a new world record would be getting a seed from the current world record pumpkin. Richard said Gienger’s seeds are available to growers, but are prohibitively expensive.

“It’s going to be $400 to $500 to buy a seed,” he said. “I’ve seen seeds out of big pumpkins bringing $400 and more at auction. If I did get and grow one, I’d probably put a pillow and lawn chair out there and sleep next to the thing.”

Richard isn’t at the level where he’d put that kind of money into a single pumpkin seed. Even so, a seed from a record-breaking pumpkin isn’t the only way to grow a gourd to surpass it.

Gienger’s pumpkin “came from a genetically smaller seed anyway. There’s nothing different from growing a world-record seed versus a seed from one of my pumpkins,” he said.

As for the seeds from his giant Wyoming specimens, Richard gives them away for free after the weigh-off. Then he drops the thing from a 170-foot-high crane to smash in spectacular fashion.

Location, Location, Location

There are other considerations besides the seed and the soil.

While there are challenges with every location, Minnesota has inherent advantages over Wyoming when it comes to pumpkins. The soil quality is much better in Minnesota, there are more hours of daylight on average and the temperature is more constant.

“During the summer, it's 97 degrees (during the day,) but then when the sun goes down, it drops to 57 degrees in 30 minutes,” Richard said, which is why he built a greenhouse.

He also believes one of the secrets Gienger and others use for growing the big boys heat units placed around the pumpkins, keeping them constantly warm throughout the night. It’s an expensive investment, but the results speak for themselves.

Will It Happen In Wyoming?

Can a 2,700-pound pumpkin grow in Wyoming?

Based on his experience and what he knows about the tightknit Wyoming pumpkin-growing community, Richard thinks there’s enough knowledge and experience to grow one that big.

“I think it can be done,” Richard said. “Every time we move up a level in weight, there’s a new set of challenges. You’ve got to learn, and it takes a year or two to overcome. But we’ll hit 2,000 pounds this year, then it’s 2,000 pounds plus once that’s met, and we’ll see what the new challenges are.”

Richard likened the challenge of growing bigger pumpkins to building a hot rod.

“When you start pushing them really hard, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong that normally wouldn’t,” he said.

Larger pumpkins increase the risk of splits, viruses, unhealthy plants and mildew. Richard said his biggest pumpkin this was on track for 2,000 pounds before an aphid invasion and sub-par soil stopped its growth.

Richard is cautiously optimistic a 2,000-pound pumpkin will grow in his Worland greenhouse in 2024. That’s the only target in his future, at least for the moment.

In the last few years, a lot has happened in the state’s pumpkin-growing community.

“Four years ago, we speculated that a 1,500-pound pumpkin could be grown in Wyoming,” he said. “Now we’re nearly at 1,800 pounds in Worland. And they’re knocking them out of the park in Cheyenne.”

Cheyenne grower Andy Corbin holds the state record for the largest pumpkin ever grown in Wyoming at 1,854 pounds. Corbin is now growing a pumpkin that could break the record he set. Richard believes Corbin’s largest fruit already weighs over 2,000 pounds.

Richard or another Wyoming grower could grow the next world record-setting pumpkin with enough time, perfectly balanced soil and all the other crucial factors in place.

“I think that with enough input, time and money, you could grow one here,” he said. “But probably not anytime soon.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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