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Exploding Pumpkins: Gourd, What A Mess

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Exploding Pumpkins: Gourd, What A Mess

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Exploding Pumpkins: Gourd, What A Mess

Exploding Pumpkins: Gourd, What A Mess

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95603520/95613603" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Steve Connolly, a pumpkin grower in Sharon, Mass., with his 1,800-pound "Beast from the East." The pumpkin is poised to shatter the current world record for heaviest pumpkin. Jenny Gold/NPR hide caption

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Jenny Gold/NPR

Steve Connolly, a pumpkin grower in Sharon, Mass., with his 1,800-pound "Beast from the East." The pumpkin is poised to shatter the current world record for heaviest pumpkin.

Jenny Gold/NPR

Steve Connolly was about to enter an 800-pound pumpkin into a contest when he noticed that it had started to burst. He decided to speed up the process by splitting the pumpkin open with an ax. When he broke through the rind, 30 to 40 gallons of juice gushed out around his feet and sounded, he says, like a bubbling brook.

Watch Connolly smash open his giant pumpkin.

After his 1,300-pound pumpkin burst, Connolly hacked it up to harvest the seeds. Jenny Gold/NPR hide caption

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Jenny Gold/NPR

After his 1,300-pound pumpkin burst, Connolly hacked it up to harvest the seeds.

Jenny Gold/NPR

Pumpkins are lined up to be weighed at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass. Jenny Gold/NPR hide caption

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Jenny Gold/NPR

Pumpkins are lined up to be weighed at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass.

Jenny Gold/NPR

Bill Clark, a 10th-generation farmer, says most of the pumpkins at his farm stand in Danvers, Mass., are from other farms. He lost 4 acres of pumpkins from the heavy rains. Jenny Gold/NPR hide caption

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Jenny Gold/NPR

Bill Clark, a 10th-generation farmer, says most of the pumpkins at his farm stand in Danvers, Mass., are from other farms. He lost 4 acres of pumpkins from the heavy rains.

Jenny Gold/NPR

Armand Michaud was tending his pumpkin patch when he heard something eerie.

"I heard like a pfffff, and I looked around, and I thought 'What the heck is that?'" he says. Then he saw a 2-foot crack in one of his giant pumpkins.

"I could put my arm right up in it," he says.

Michaud had just witnessed a bizarre phenomenon plaguing New England — exploding giant pumpkins.

Each year, thousands of pumpkin growers compete to grow the biggest pumpkin the world has ever seen. Just last year, a world record was set by Joe Jutras of Rhode Island. His pumpkin weighed 1,689 pounds.

This year, Steve Connolly, an unassuming engineer from suburban Massachusetts, is out to shatter the record by more than 100 pounds.

In the middle of Connolly's front lawn sits a pumpkin nearly the size of a stagecoach or an old Volkswagen beetle. He calls it the "Beast from the East," and he's been coddling it for months. Connolly – who refers to the pumpkin in the feminine — feeds "her" a diet of liquid fish, seaweed, compost, grass clippings, guano and manure. At night, he covers the pumpkin with queen-sized blankets to keep it warm.

All of Connolly's hard work has paid off. His pumpkin is measuring close to 1,800 pounds. But there's one possible glitch: The pumpkin won't be weighed until the Frerichs Farm weigh-off on Saturday.

Based on Connolly's experience, there's a chance she won't make it.

Connolly grew five pumpkins in his patch this year, and four of them have exploded. Two pumpkins burst just days before a major competition.

"It's what happens. It's one of the drawbacks of extreme gardening," he says.

A giant pumpkin can put on around 40 pounds a day. If there is too much rain, some pumpkins overindulge and begin packing on closer to 50 pounds a day. As the pumpkins expand, pressure builds on the weaker parts of the rind and suddenly they blow.

A few feet away from the Beast from the East sits a pile of rancid pumpkin waste — the remains of a 1,300-pounder Connolly was set to take to the Topsfield Fair weigh-off last weekend. He was devastated, but he's trying to keep perspective

"It's something that gets a lot of TLC, that's for sure, but it's still a fruit. It's still a fruit. And you have to treat it as such," he says.

It's not just giant pumpkins that have had a bad year. Smaller field pumpkins (the jack-o'-lantern kind) are suffering, too.

More than 1,000 New England farms grow pumpkins, and some of them have done just fine (which is to say that despite the rainy weather, there should not be any shortages this fall). But many farmers, especially those with low-lying land, have taken a real hit.

Bill Clark is a 10th generation farmer in Danvers, Mass. His family has been farming this land since 1728. This year, he lost 4 acres of pumpkins from the heavy rains.

"I've been working this field since I was a kid — 55 years or so — and I've never seen it as wet as it is," he says.

Pumpkins can yield $5,000 an acre, so this is a real loss.

The rain breeds disease and rot in the patch.

Clark points to a mound of pumpkin mush in his field, which he says should be a pumpkin worth $10. That kind of rot is characteristic of what happened throughout his farm.

The Clark farm stand is a beloved institution in town. Usually, he is able to stock about a third of it with his own pumpkins and designer squash. But this year, Clark is down to 5 to10 percent. He imported the rest of the pumpkins and squash from a farm in Vermont. Like a lot of farmers, he says, he'll be doing a lot of soul-searching this winter to decide if pumpkins are worth it next year.

While this year's pumpkin crop is a bust for the Clark farm, Connolly is hoping that the Beast from the East will redeem his pumpkin season.

"Knock on wood," Connolly says. "You get a salt shaker. I'll get a rabbit's foot — all that good stuff — because I don't want to jinx myself."

If she doesn't blow first, this could be the great pumpkin he's been waiting for.