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100111 great pumpkin

Polson pumpkin grower Emmett May sits upon his great pumpkin, an 893-pounder that broke the state record by 111 pounds. Next year, May says, 1,000 pounds is his goal.

"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."

- Linus van Pelt, in "Peanuts"

POLSON - Emmett May doesn't just believe in the Great Pumpkin.

He grew it.

The greatest one Montana's ever seen, anyway - an 893-pounder that smashed the previous state record by 111 pounds.

May, who started growing giant pumpkins four years ago, planted the seed for this one inside his Polson home on April 10, moved it outside to a greenhouse and had it in the ground on May 8.

When they weighed it over the weekend at Harvest Fest in Ronan - bringing in a certified scale from Spokane to do so - it had outdistanced May's previous personal best by a whopping 250 pounds, and broke the Montana record of 782 pounds set by Shelby grower Kyle Koschmeder a year ago.

May's not-so-secret weapon in his quest for a bigger pumpkin was what's known as a high tunnel - something of an unheated, less-expensive greenhouse.

"What hurts growth are temperature swings at night," May said. "In August, we were getting down to 36 degrees at night, and 47 is when pumpkins shut down and quit growing."

When they are at the height of the growing season, pumpkins can grow as much as 50 pounds a day, according to May.

***

May planted two pumpkin plants in his new high tunnel.

What might have seemed his most promising one - those seeds were selling for more than $200 - turned out to be totally sterile, May said.

The seed for the new Montana record-holder cost $40.

Seeds from the world-champion pumpkin - a 1,810 1/2-pound monster grown in Wisconsin - have sold for as much as $2,600 apiece, according to May, a member of the Big Sky Giant Pumpkin Growers.

"We follow genetic lines in pumpkins just like they do with horses and cattle," May said. "We hand-pollinate then so we know the exact crosses we get."

May grew five giant pumpkins to fruition this year, the others in his regular pumpkin patch, and also mentored two Ronan brothers who were interested in the hobby.

Eleven-year-old Jarrett Richey raised a 597-pound pumpkin in May's patch, and his 7-year-old brother, Jessie, grew one to 494 1/2 pounds.

"I gave them the plants, but told them, ‘You've got to come up every week and work them,' " May said.

***

The "mostly retired" real estate appraiser, who grew up in Mississippi and Florida and moved to Polson in 1992, grew his first giant pumpkin four years ago.

"Off a hardware-store package of seeds," he said.

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It reached all of 190 pounds.

"But I was hooked," May added. "It's a fun hobby."

His 893-pound pumpkin developed a soft spot that kept May worried - a giant pumpkin that splits, or has a hole open in it, is automatically disqualified from setting records.

May, who also wraps his pumpkins in blankets at night to ward off the cold, cleaned the spot with Clorox and water, and applied fungicides, too.

At the weigh-in at Harvest Fest, May wore an orange T-shirt that says, "I saw the Great Pumpkin."

His wife, Maggie Newman, wore a black one that read, "Pumpkin widow."

May will haul his record pumpkin to Missoula this weekend for the University of Montana Homecoming, and have it on display during the Grizzly football game against Northern Colorado at the "Butte tailgate" area at the north end outside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Eventually, he'll remove the seeds from the pumpkin and dry them to either sell, distribute or trade. The rest of the pumpkin will either be fed to his cattle, or wind up in the compost pile.

Next year, he'll try to beat his record.

A 1,000-pound pumpkin, May said, is his goal.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or  at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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