On October 11, 2018
If there’s one thing that conjures up the feeling of fall, it’s a pumpkin (PSL, anyone?). But Jacob Marintzer, a giant-pumpkin grower in Westmoreland, thinks about pumpkins year-round.
“I can tell you just about anything about a pumpkin plant,” Jacob said.
Jacob currently holds the state record for the largest pumpkin. This past season, he grew an Atlantic Giant pumpkin that weighed in at 1,176 pounds. It measured almost 15 feet around, 99 inches end to end, and 104 inches side to side.
Jacob has always loved gardening, as he grew up helping his mother and four brothers tend a huge garden on their farm in northwest Kansas. Today, Jacob and his wife Tara are passing on that love for growing things to their three kids, Kade, Phoebe and Elsie. Jacob and Tara both work at Kansas State University, but live out in the country where they can enjoy the outdoors and have a big garden — with plenty of room for giant pumpkins.
When Jacob saw a 200-pound pumpkin at a local drugstore several years ago, his interest was piqued. Then, he heard some people talking about growing giant pumpkins.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to try that,’” Jacob said.
In 2009, Jacob grew his first giant pumpkin. It weighed about 180 pounds, paltry compared to this year’s specimen. Every year, he makes improvements to help his pumpkin plants grow even bigger.
“Every year, I look back on my journal and I say, ‘What went wrong or what would have made it easier?’ That’s what I focus on for the next year,” Jacob said.
“I’ve tried multiple watering systems; the current one has 12 stations hooked up and controlled through my smart phone. Last year, I realized that if I was going to grow really big pumpkins in Kansas, I’d have to build a greenhouse. So I built a 60’ by 30’ greenhouse by hand for just two pumpkin plants. That was a big improvement last year,” he recalled. “This year, I want to work on soil. Our clay soil isn’t good for pumpkins, so I’m going to be bringing in sand, loads and loads of top soil, and a whole bunch of compost.”
“Our season begins in October. The minute we pull this year’s pumpkin, we’re starting the next season.”
Jacob is usually working on improvements in the fall, researching and buying seeds in the winter, planting in the spring and pollinating in the early summer. Once the pumpkins are pollinated, they grow fast. This last pumpkin gained the bulk of its weight in just 65 days. In one day alone, it grew about 40 pounds. As astonishing as that is, Jacob says the ideal gain would be about 60 pounds in one day. After all, he’s got his eyes set on the prize.
“My ultimate goal is to be the first person in Kansas to grow a 2,000-pounder,” he said. “My goal next year is to have a pumpkin that is 1,500 pounds within 60 days.”
“A lot of giant pumpkin growers are nervous with their pumpkins, but I’m the opposite. I let the kids help…to a point,” Jacob said. “When they’re five, they get to come into the greenhouse and help plant the seeds. My oldest, Kade, helps work the vines and the soil, helps choose which pumpkin we’re going to pollinate, and helps hand-pollinate the pumpkin.”
For Jacob, the nerves set in when it’s time to move the pumpkin. Moving this year’s pumpkin was especially challenging, as they had to work within the greenhouse. Jacob had to make a special device using railroad ties and a pulley, plus an oversized pallet, to move the pumpkin so it could be officially weighed. (Check out the photos below to see the journey this year’s pumpkin took.)
Growing a giant pumpkin is almost a job in itself. Jacob says he spends one to three hours a day working with the vines. But for him, the greenhouse is a kind of getaway.
“I have a TV, I have lights — it’s my man cave. Once the kids are in bed, I put in a couple hours. That’s my hobby. Watching TV isn’t fun for me. Being in the greenhouse is fun.”