August 12, 2008
Coffee Co. - Out in the woods off Highway 158 between Douglas and Waycross sits a small piece of special ground that produced a record-breaking pumpkin, grown under the watchful care of Lee Taylor.
"There's about four of five of us here in Georgia that really strives to grow something this big," says Lee, as he gently pats his latest pumpkin,that sits on a two-wheel black trailer and weights 920 pounds, a state record for now.
Lee enjoys the friendly competition, in particular. He competed in the past two years, and last year he grew one that weighed 789 pounds.
"They can be tall, long, wide, it doesn't matter. I grow them for the weight," says Lee.
One of his secrets involves knowing when to plant and what seeds to plant. The record-setting pumpkin he grew this year came from a friend in New York.
"You can go back 10 years on the seed line," says Lee who considers the seed's genetics like a racehorse owner looks at breeding lines.
Lee's seeds start in a greenhouse, and then get transplanted to the near-by garden patch after three days.
"We have to start about March," says Lee, before high temperatures and high humidity becomes a common occurrence.
He hovers over his pumpkins like a proud father watches over his new-born son.
"As much money as I have in them I've got to baby them," says Lee who estimates he put about $1,000 into growing four pumpkins, not counting his time.
It took the record-setting pumpkin 60 days to reach its weight, adding, on average, 13 pounds of weight a day. Some days, says Lee, it would gain 20 to 30 pounds.
"You can come in one day and it's the size of your thumb, the next day the size of a baseball," says Lee.
It makes you wonder if he could hear the pumpkin growing since it added weight so quickly.
"You can't hear them. I tried it," says Lee.
He can hear his wife express concern over the hours and hours he spends looking after each pumpkin as it grows.
"My wife says I take better care of them than my boys," says Lee.
He got the idea of growing pumpkins from a seed catalog he read three years ago. From then on, he's been fine-tuning his cultivation. They get a drink of compost tea frequently, where the gets compost from the City of Douglas' composting facility and soaks it in water for about three days. He adds a variety of ingredients--sea weed, fish fertilizer--to the compost, along with water. The pumpkins' energy drink then steeps for about three days.
"I've got a little secret ingredient that nobody has tried around here, as yet," says Lee.
The pumpkins appear addicted to his special brew.
"The more you put to them, the more they like it," says Lee.
Whatever the secret ingredient is, plus the compost tea helped him grow his record setting pumpkin, and gave him exclusive bragging rights for a while.
Lee cut the stem, its life-line, after 60 days of growth and loaded it on a trailer. He frequently took the huge pumpkin on tour in his community, and many people asked him, "Is it real?"
Lee couldn't wait to cut open his orange baby that wasn't intended to be eaten or intended to be a jack o' lantern. He wanted the seeds inside to give growers in other parts of the county. Those seeds would get a special designation: 920 Taylor.
The pumpkin went to his compost pile.
"There's no feeling like it," says Lee. "You take care of them and they take care of you."
The growing of a record-setting pumpkin brings lots of joy to Lee who says the feeling matters.
"It's just the feeling of accomplishment," says Lee, an accomplishment he hopes is temporary because he wants to grow an even bigger one that weights a least 1,000 pounds.