A local giant pumpkin grower and town dentist, Chris Rodebaugh, recently traveled with his gourd to Raleigh, N.C. to compete in the North Carolina State Fair. His pumpkin, grown in Lewisburg and weighing an impressive 1,461 pounds, took first place and garnered an award for most beautiful pumpkin.
In addition to winning giant pumpkin competitions, Rodebaugh has also broken a West Virginia state record with one of his giant crops. In 2020, he broke the record for green squash, a record he still holds. The year before, in 2019, Rodebaugh won the Largest Pumpkin Contest at the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival with a 1,384-pound specimen.
Rodebaugh’s interest in growing giant pumpkins began around 2018 with a trip to the State Fair of West Virginia. He said, “There was a fruit there that was maybe two-to-300 pounds, and I just thought it was really interesting that a pumpkin could be that big. After reviewing it and looking online I realized ‘Oh wow, they get a lot bigger.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to set out with a goal to grow one that was 500 pounds.’”
The following year, he began growing.
After he began growing giant varieties of pumpkins, Rodebaugh intended to enter one of his crops at the same fair that sparked his interest. But, as the fair grew near, he estimated his pumpkin to weigh approximately 1,000 pounds. Since West Virginia’s fair is early in the growing season, Rodebaugh said, “It was still growing aggressively” and he decided to leave the fruit on the vine to see how much bigger it would get.
Rodebaugh says the best advice he can give new giant growers, or gardeners in general, is to know your soil. He noted that you need to know what is and is not in your soil before beginning to plant. A good recommendation, he said, is to take a soil sample in early spring and “then send it to a soil lab or the West Virginia AG extension in Morgantown. They can do it and get a proper analysis of what your soil content is.” Additionally, Rodebaugh said it is vital to understand the specific requirements of the crops a gardener wants to grow.
Regarding someone interested in getting started with giant crops, Rodebaugh has a vital piece of advice: research. Specifically, he notes the importance of searching for a local group of growers who meet and “toss ideas around.”
West Virginia now has a giant pumpkin club called the Mountain State Giant Growers. While they have not yet held an official weigh-off, Rodebaugh said they plan to remedy that next year. He also noted that, when it happens, the weigh-off will be open to growers across the globe and not just state residents. The club has an active Facebook page for anyone interested in getting involved.
The next growing season will be different for the giant pumpkin grower. After growing for multiple consecutive years, Rodebaugh said he is giving his soil a rest for the next season. He said, “My soil needs a rest. So, I’m going to be growing in new soil in a much smaller area. I hope to get two fruit to scale, and I hope for them to be big orange and beautiful.”