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Scrawny plant grows a monster pumpkin

Todd and Dawn Cotterman spend hours tending the pumpkin, which grew by up to 35 pounds a day. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Todd and Dawn Cotterman spend hours tending the pumpkin, which grew by up to 35 pounds a day. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

BY MATTHEW E. SEMRAU
OU News Bureau

Imagine a large pumpkin. Now imagine something bigger. OK, good. Multiply that by ten.

Todd and Dawn Cotterman have grown a huge pumpkin — gigantic to be precise. Their pumpkin, “Daisy” as they call it, is an Atlantic giant.

Atlantic giants are a hybrid pumpkin cultivated especially for their enormity. Daisy officially weighed in at a modest 1,196 pounds, according to the Cottermans.

Daisy almost didn’t happen

The Cottermans got Daisy from a friend who grows large pumpkins. He had thrown it on his compost pile — for good reason.

Daisy was an 18-inch-long plant when they put it in the ground. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Daisy was an 18-inch-long plant when they put it in the ground. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

“It was all root-bound and kind of getting yellow,” Dawn Cotterman said.

But the Cottermans were willing to give the plant a chance. While a seed can cost as much as $400, their friend gave it away for free because of the plant’s poor health.

“When we put it in the ground, that plant was about, I don’t know, 18 inches long,” Todd Cotterman said.

“She’s a Cinderella pumpkin,” Dawn Cotterman said.

Growing a pumpkin that weighs as much as a small car takes work.

“It’s all about dedication, time and knowing how to do it,” Todd Cotterman said.

He would spend a few hours a day, every morning and night, tending to the plant at their home near Fenton, Mich.

“You can’t go anywhere in the summer. I mean, you can’t take off for three days — unless somebody’s around that can watch it,” he said.

A big plant needs food

“I’m putting a lot of nutrients on it, a lot of organic fertilizer,” he explained. “You know, pH, phosphorus and nitrogen. Most of that is nitrogen.”

The fertilizer and soil Daisy grew in were professional-grade products purchased from specialty suppliers. It would cost more than $4,000 to buy all of the products at retail price.

Pests and disease are a constant threat.

“A groundhog will wipe you out,” he said. “You have to be really careful. There’s is a lot of disease prevention you have to do.”

They use the board to walk around Daisy without stepping on its roots. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

They use the board to walk around Daisy without stepping on its roots. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Because of its size and the speed of growth, regular garden problems increase exponentially, the couple explained.

“Because of the size and the hybrid, they are subject to a lot of stuff,” Todd Cotterman said, mentioning fungus and cucumber beetles.

Getting the right amount of water is also a concern.

If the plant gets too much water, the vine can burst and the pumpkin can’t get nutrients. Too little water and it will shrivel and die.

“Depending on the weather, about 60 gallons every other day,” he said.

Without this summer’s plentiful rainfall, Cotterman explained, that amount could have skyrocketed.

“It takes a lot of water. I mean, you know, fertilizer, but gosh, just takes a lot of water,” he said.

 Call it a prima donna, but the pumpkin was picky about the temperature.

“It doesn’t really like it over 82, 83 from what these growers are telling me,” he explained.

“Between 75 and 80 and then 60 degrees or 65 degree nights — perfect,” he continued. “And when it was like that, it was putting on 30 to 35 a day.”

That’s up to a 35-pound daily increase. Only a pumpkin could be happy with that kind of weight gain.

“Getting one from the time you pollinate to the time you weigh it off is a real challenge,” he said.

This year’s conditions were near perfect: not too cold, not too hot, not too much rain and not too little.

“Next year could be a whole different ball game,” he said.

Next year, they will use this seed from the 2012 world-record holder. - PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Next year, they will use this seed from the 2012 world-record holder. – PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

People who grow these plants keep track of a plant’s family history. The seeds are often identified by the plant pollinated (mother) and the plant used to pollinate it (father,) who owned the plant, and the official weight of the pumpkin.

Next year, the Cottermans plan on growing a seed from the 2012 world-record holder that they won in a drawing.

They sold their pumpkin for $500 to a broker who specializes in reselling giant pumpkins.  They guessed that Daisy’s new home will be in front of a person’s house or a business.

“He’ll probably sell it for about a thousand,” Todd Cotterman said.

They won’t make a profit on Daisy. For them, this was a family affair.

“It’s a good family thing, you know,” Dawn Cotterman said. “It’s been exciting for us all.”

You can follow their pumpkin-growing adventure on Facebook.

With pumpkin and vines, Daisy blankets 400 square feet of the Cotterman’s backyard. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

With pumpkin and vines, Daisy blankets 400 square feet of the Cotterman’s backyard. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

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Posted by on Oct 14 2014. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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