The Long Island Fair opened Friday, September 24. One of the biggest attractions is guessing the weight of the giant pumpkin over by the agricultural exhibit shed.
While I can’t tell you how much this behemoth weighs (because it is a closely guarded state secret I am not privy to), I can tell you a bit about giant pumpkins, thanks to a chat with giant pumpkin grower Nels Freund-Nelson of Northport as we watched his big baby get placed on its giant pumpkin daïs by, yes, a forklift.
According to Freund-Nelson — who is the supplier of the fair’s way-big winter squash for the fourth time — giant pumpkins became popular in the 1800s and got bigger and bigger as aficionados cross-pollinated, until Howard Dill produced and patented the Atlantic Giant in the 1950s. It has since become the top seed. “The seeds are jealously guarded,” he says. “Scott Armstrong of Commack has the Long Island record of 1,449 pounds and the world record is 2,300 pounds. The seeds from the world record holder sold for $1,100 a seed on the internet.”
Scott Armstrong of Commack has the Long Island record of 1,449 pounds and the world record is 2,300 pounds. The seeds from the world record holder sold for $1,100 a seed on the internet.
It takes dedication — veering perilously on the edge of obsession — to play with the Cucurbita pepo big boys. “Growing a giant pumpkin is like raising a kid,” says Freund-Nelson, who like all raconteurs is not averse to a bit of hyperbole. This is, after all, a game where size matters: The bigger the better. “You need good seeds, good food, water and a lot of vine management. Each plant grows 40 feet long and you have to chose which one to keep and then hope it doesn’t explode. I had one that was up to 850 pounds and then we got a lot of rain and the side just blew out.”
Freund-Nelson claims his pumpkin is special not just in size, but in content. “Everyone else who does it goes for the competition so they use whatever,” he says. “My pumpkins are 100 percent organic and it all gets eaten.”
For your chance to guess the pumpkin’s weight (and if you are lucky get a chance to listen to more of Freund-Nelson’s just this side of probable tales of world-record-holding lactating goats and get recipes for pumpkin soup) as well as enjoy the down-home delights of one of the country’s oldest agricultural fairs, visit the Long Island Fair this weekend or next at Old Bethpage Village Restoration.
2015 Long Island Fair
September 25-27; October 2-4
Fridays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.