MELISSA BLOCK, host:
While the economy is shrinking, pumpkins in New England are expanding and it's not a pretty sight.
Mr. ARMAND MICHAUD: Oh, I was weaving and I hear like I like a pffffft. And I looked around, and I said, what the heck is that? And when I get over there, the crack was this long. And I could put my arm right up in it.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
That's Armand Michaud. He's describing a bizarre phenomenon, giant pumpkins exploding. As NPR's Jenny Gold reports, all it takes is a pumpkin simply growing too big, too fast.
JENNY GOLD: Each year, thousands of pumpkin growers compete to grow the biggest pumpkin the world has ever seen. Just last year, a new world record was set by Joe Jutras of Rhode Island: 1,689 pounds. This year, an unassuming engineer from suburban Massachusetts, is out to shatter the record by more than 100 pounds.
Mr. STEVE CONNOLLY (Engineer): This is what everybody's been talking about lately. It's quite a big orange monster, We call it the beast from the east.
GOLD: In the middle of Steve Connolly's front lawn sits a pumpkin nearly the size of a stagecoach or an old Volkswagen beetle. He's been coddling her for months, feeding her a diet of liquid fish, seaweed, compost, and manure, covering her with queen-size blankets at night to keep her warm. And all his hard work has paid off. She's measuring close to 1,800 pounds. But here's the thing, she won't be weighed until the Ferichs Farm Fair tomorrow. And based on Connolly's past experience, there's a chance she won't make it. How many did you grow this year?
Mr. CONNOLLY: Five.
GOLD: And what happened to the other four?
Mr. CONNOLLY: They exploded. They exploded. It's what happens. It's one of the drawbacks of extreme gardening.
GOLD: Two of those pumpkins burst just days before a major competition. Here's what happens. A giant pumpkin can put on around 40 pounds a day. But too much rain and some pumpkins overindulge, packing on more like 50 pounds a day. As the pumpkins expand, pressure builds on the weaker parts of the rind and suddenly they blow. That's what happened to the pile of rancid pumpkin waste just a few feet away, the remains of a 1,300 pounder Connolly was set to bring to a fair last weekend. He was devastated, but he's trying to keep perspective.
Mr. CONNOLLY: It's definitely something that gets a lot of TLC, but it's still a fruit. It's still a fruit. And you have to treat it as such.
GOLD: It's not just giants that have had a bad year. Smaller field pumpkins, the jack-o'-lantern kind, are suffering too. Well over 1,000 New England farms grow pumpkins, and some of them have done just fine. And not to worry, there should not be any shortages despite the rain. But many farmers, especially those with low-lying land, have taken a real hit. Bill Clark is a 10th generation farmer in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Mr. BILL CLARK (Farmer): I've lost over four acres of pumpkins here totally. And I've got very little bit to show for it.
GOLD: His family's been farming this land since 1728.
Mr. CLARK: I've been working in this farm since I was a young kid, maybe close to 55 years or so. I've never seen it as wet as it is.
GOLD: And all the rain breeds disease and rot in the patch. Pumpkins can yield $5,000 an acre, so this is a real loss.
Mr. CLARK: That pumpkin should be a $10 pumpkin right there. And this is characteristic of what happened all through here. This was - these fields, when I went to go pick them, some - I had some squash over there further that were beautiful. And looked at them and they just rotted.
GOLD: For the Clark Farm, this year's pumpkin crop is pretty much a bust. But as for Steve Connolly, he's banking that the beast from the east will redeem his pumpkin season.
Mr. CONNOLLY: Knock on wood. You got a salt shaker. I need a rabbit's foot, all that good stuff, because I don't want to jinx myself.
GOLD: If she doesn't blow first, this could be the great pumpkin he's been waiting for. Jenny Gold, NPR News.
MELISSA BLOCK: And if your curiosity about exploding pumpkins is not yet satisfied, you can see video of Steve Connolly chopping up his shattered pumpkin. That's at our website npr.org.
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