"It was a poor year for pumpkins," said Maynard Serfass. But his pumpkin patch was good enough to earn the backyard gardener first place at the Allentown Fair.
He said he has a cousin who grows big pumpkins but those were eaten by a groundhog.
Serfass said he had trouble with cucumber beetles on his pumpkin patch. They should have been sprayed with fungicide and insecticide as soon as he moved them to the garden - he starts his plants indoors.
Serfass always had a garden at his Towamensing home and in 2003-2004 he saw some Martha Stewart Big Max seeds at Walmart.
"They grew all over the place, even up the trees. They went out of the garden and down into the woods - the little pumpkins," he said.
But then he heard about the Atlantic Giant pumpkins and bought a few seeds at www.bigseeds.com which has a statement that "our giant pumpkin seed has the potential to grow a 2,000 lb. pumpkin."
In 2004 he had a couple of nice pumpkins that he used to line the driveway. Someone told him they were show quality and asked why he did not take them to the fairs.
So in 2006 he took a 559-pound pumpkin and dropped if off at the Bloomsburg Fair. He and his wife Diane later walked in and found it had taken first place.They said, "Next year a 700 pounder, then 900 pounds and then 1,000."
"I was hooked. It became an obsession. We named the big ones after Star Wars characters because my kid Brian is into Star Wars," said Serfass. His grandson, Alec, helps him choose names. There have been Chewie, Ben, and Vader among others.
"I saw the one from 2006," said Maynard's cousin, Donald Serfass. "Maynard stopped at our place in Tamaqua and I remember that the pumpkin filled the back of his pick-up truck. It was the first-place winner at the Bloomsburg Fair and I'd never seen anything like it. It had beautiful color and was the largest pumpkin I'd ever seen. At that time, I never realized pumpkins could grow so big. But Maynard certainly has the know-how to do it. If anyone can grow a prize-winning pumpkin, it's Maynard Serfass." In 2007 Maynard's 630-pound pumpkin took fourth place but at Bloomsburg there are only three place ribbons so Serfass came home empty-handed.
The meat was thicker then a soda can is long. He cut a hole in it and lay a can alongside the pumpkin shell and it was solid beyond the can length by perhaps two more inches. It is this meat that produces the weight.
They really took over the garden, he said. Some of the leaves get to be two-by-three feet in size.
A plant sends forth a vine - the primary. Offshoots from that are trained in a straight line perpendicular to the primary where they will send down roots. At a distance of 10 to 12 feet the secondary vine will be cut off and planted in the ground. An offshoot of the secondary vines - the tertiary vines - are cut off . Only one pumpkin per vine is allowed to develop.
Serfass hand-pollinates his vines so he can combine the best of the genetics from past pumpkins.
They can lose a pound a day in moisture after they are cut from the plant so they have to be shaded.
Serfass soaks the seeds overnight before planting them in loose soil. After they sprout they need plenty of light, and have to be transplanted to a sunny garden.
He chooses only the healthiest plants to transplant.
They are fertilized weekly beginning when they have three true leaves and watered daily.
Nothing helps as much as reading a good book about growing pumpkins, he said.
Serfass said he had jars filled with seeds in his freezer and took some to Towamensing Elementary School to give them to the students.
In 2009 his pumpkin was used in a fairy-tale themed display near the base of Jack and his beanstalk at the Allentown Fair. It was a 492-pound pumpkin and the fair queen, who posed with the pumpkin, told people she came out of that pumpkin.
His granddaughter, Amanda, said, "No, my grandfather raised that pumpkin." It was named Peter Pumpkin.
"You don't get any points for 'pretty,' just for weight," said Serfass.
If a pumpkin is 60 percent orange, yellow or beige, is is considered a pumpkin. If it is white or green it is considered a squash, even though they may be from the same seeds.
In 2006 his Carbon County Fair winning pumpkin was Dora, a name chosen by his granddaughter. It is bright orange with smooth skin. Dora weighed 288 pounds.
When a person is familiar with pumpkins they will recognize some of the genetics involved in any particular pumpkin, said Serfass.