By Adam Pack
A Great Pumpkin resides right among us, as recognized by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC), the official governing body of the worldwide pumpkin growing competition. The GPC is the international club governing body that recognizes pumpkins officially. As per their website: “The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth’s mission cultivates the hobby of growing giant pumpkins throughout the world by establishing standards and regulations that ensure quality of fruit, fairness of competition, recognition of achievement, fellowship and education for all participating growers and weigh-off sites.”
The local grower of the gargantuan orange gourd causing a stir in GPC circles? Local dentist and gardening enthusiast Chris Rodebaugh.
The local DDS takes pumpkins to relevant events in both West Virginia and North Carolina. Rodebaugh breeds his pumpkins with an incredibly laborious and attentive process that he compares to the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses: “The best way to think about it is just like race-horses… They have a pedigree… And there’s a lineage that’s traceable.”
Rodebaugh takes excellent care and pays great attention to his plants from start to finish, carefully separating the likely winners from the slow starters, late bloomers, and other inadequate specimens.
But, as any experienced race enthusiast can tell you, during any meet a long shot, underdog, 20/1 can win it all. It was just such a case this time around, Rodebaugh admitting that this plant was underperforming the competition in the growing phase. But the little plant that could shut up from the back and bore the biggest pumpkin Rodebaugh has ever grown, beating his personal best by nearly 400 pounds.
However, Rodebaugh is an experienced grower and explained the seemingly strange growth spurt of his runt plant turned blue ribbon winner. “It probably had a better root structure, found nutrients better, something was a little bit more favorable in its micro-environment to give it the edge right from the get-go.’’ Rodebaugh fancies himself a keen eye for growth and potential in his plants. Though the early stages were concerning, he said, “I probably would have picked it myself as well, all things considered”
When asked about his desire to enter competitive pumpkin growing, Rodebaugh said that it was a random encounter at our West Virginia state fair in 2017 that piqued his interest. His background in science, however, gave him the real drive and edge to push forward and get into the record books.
“It started with going down the ‘rabbit hole’ online on the subject,” he said, “and then once I got started, I’m a scientist, and that helped me understand and interpret the agronomy (the science of soil management and crop production) involved, and I was hooked.”
With the current record for world’s largest pumpkin being held by a grower in Italy, Rodebaugh and others like him in the region are starting to eye the record and global recognition, and making a meteoric rise in doing so.
“So far, this is the furthest south that there have been successful growers [for pumpkins], but as of now you have me, a gentleman in Wayne County, and another in Kentucky, who are all right there with each other.” And right there with the worldwide scene as well, as Rodebaugh’s pumpkin comes in at 36th heaviest globally, in a competition this year which featured 3,600 pumpkins.
When asked what other fruits and vegetables he was interested in, Rodebaugh mentioned that while watermelons, tomatoes, and various squash could be pushed to relatively unearthly sizes. He’ll always be most enthusiastic about pumpkins for, as they say in competitive pumpkin growing, “You can’t make a boat out of a tomato.”