Why grow 1,000-pound pumpkins? Allegheny Township man says ‘it’s fun and nutty’
Moving an estimated 1,000-pound pumpkin from the Reiter pumpkin patch in Allegheny Township is a precise process.
Justin Reiter, 39, has a custom pumpkin harness, iron-lifting ring and custom wooden tripod outfitted with chain winch to prove it.
He needs the peculiar tools of the trade, along with plenty of help, to pick his three gi-normous gourds for pumpkin competitions in Altoona this weekend for the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association weigh-off with a $1,500 prize.
Then there’s the big one: The Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-off contest in Canfield, Ohio, next Saturday, offering $5,000 to the top winner.
Reiter’s prowess in growing the special pumpkins and gear is courtesy of Reiter’s father-in-law, Russ Baptiste of Kittanning, a longtime grower of the mammoth gourds. Lucky for Reiter, Baptiste’s equipment was very available this year as his own pumpkins petered out.
Baptiste blamed a disease for prematurely ending his gourd season; however, his wife, Debbie, cited another factor, “couch-itis.” Baptiste corrected her: “No, ‘puppy-itis,’ referring to their young chocolate Labrador retriever, Hickory.
Reiter has been learning the secrets of growing and harvesting the great pumpkin under the tutelage of Baptiste, who interested him in the outsized gourds when he was courting Baptiste’s daughter, Holly, and Reiter’s future wife.
Reiter, who now is in his seventh year growing pumpkins, has kept the hobby a family affair with his wife and three kids, particularly Paisley, 4, who wheels her pink wheelbarrow to the patch to help.
The giants of the garden need constant tending, lots of fertilizer, water and, of course, good seeds. They need space: Each giant pumpkin needs 800 to 1,000 square feet for the vine and leaves, according to Reiter.
Baptiste was on hand Friday to help Reiter hoist the Altoona-bound pumpkin.
“I’ll tell you what: this one is not going to win a beauty contest,” Baptise remarked about the pumpkin that someone on Facebook named “Gourdy Povich,” in either a tribute or chuckle at television personality Maury Povich, which Reiter hopes weighs about 1,200.
Gourdy Povich developed “shoulders” indicative of potentially heavy pumpkin. Size and weight is what Reiter was going for.
However, his pretty pumpkin, a marbled caramel-and-orange, is reserved to go the big competition in Ohio later in the month. It’s his heaviest, estimated to weight about 1,200 pounds.
Reiter has been keeping an eye on his pumpkins, literally, with a motion-activated camera. He has an app on his cell phone enabling him to water his pumpkins while he works his daytime job as an operations manager for a financial services company.
Why does he do it?
“It’s fun and nutty,” Reiter said. “I love to see the faces of people who see me drive to the weigh-offs with one of the big pumpkins.”
But there are always challenges such as the weather and getting better and bigger pumpkins every year. Last year, Reiter’s estimated 1,314 pounder broke as it was getting weighed.
“It was devastating,” Reiter said.
But not for too long as plans were underway for this year’s pumpkin patch.
After the father- and son-in-laws successfully hoisted Gourdy Povich into a trailer Friday, they measured the gourd while Holly Reiter plugged the numbers into a special pumpkin weight estimate table: She came up with 979 pounds.
“Hey, we’ll see,” said Reiter, not happy with the estimate.
Baptiste reminded Reiter, “that’s why you have a weigh-off.”
After this weekend’s competition, the Gourdy Povich pumpkin will find at home at Renshaw Family Farms in South Buffalo Township during the 11th annual Pumpkin Festival, Fridays through Sundays in October, and also Mondays, Oct. 14.
The Reiter’s will take their “pretty” pumpkin to local schools, events and Halloween parades.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .