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Gourdgeous: North Van man grows B.C.'s prettiest pumpkin

It was a fruitful day for Jeff Pelletier at this year's official weigh-in at Krause Berry Farms
Betelgeuse, named after the orange gas giant star, sits beside Queensbury grower Jeff Pelletier, in an orange vest. | Courtesy of Jeff Petellier

“Bibbidi-bobbidi-beau,” said the Fairy Gourdmother, as she waved her wand over what would become the most precious pumpkin the North Shore has ever seen.

If someone had told North Vancouver resident Jeff Pelletier he would win the Howard Dill award for best looking pumpkin, he would have said they’re out of their gourd. But that’s just what he did after B.C.’s official weigh-in at Krause Berry Farms in Langley on Oct. 8.

There, his entry – affectionately dubbed Betelgeuse after the orange gas giant star – was praised for its classic pumpkin shape and deep orange colour, which can fade in larger contenders.

Although his voluptuous vine crop (at 739 pounds) came in seventh overall for weight, it was an exceedingly fruitful day. The infamous mad horticulturalist of Queensbury also won prizes for biggest squash (243 pounds) and most giant tomato (2.7 pounds).

Considering the bumps along the road this year, Pelletier is pleased with the way Betelgeuse shaped up in the end. Wetter-than-average weather well into late spring impacted early growing stages of the plant, but the end of the growing season was good as it warmed up through the summer.

One yard maintenance crisis had a burgeoning Betelgeuse hanging by a thread (a vine, actually).

“My next-door neighbour had a tree that was hanging over my house, and cut it down,” Pelletier said. “It was a coniferous tree, so there were needles all over my roof.” A roofer came to clean up the mess, but rather than rake it up, he used a leaf blower and blew everything into Pelletier’s garden.

“And the week that he did that, the plant just started to shut down,” Pelletier explained, adding that typically he prunes the vine constantly through July and August because it grows so fast.

“This is the first time I've ever had anything like that happen: all the secondary vines self terminated – they just stopped growing,” he said. “So the size of the vine I had in July was what I had to work with for the rest of the season.”

Pelletier is confident that without this setback, Betelgeuse would have topped 1,000 pounds, like his pumpkins from previous years, including Grawp, Neptune and Ella.

Growing a monumental vegetable is not a task for the casual gardener. Pelletier likens his competitive agronomy to a sport.

“Giant pumpkin growers like to say we have a six-month pet that we take care of,” he said. “Once the plant goes in the ground, you're watching it quite closely until you harvest.”

Even with a watchful eye, pesky critters can chew up plans. His first Atlantic giant squash of the year sank after a squirrel attacked the vine. But he still managed to grow prize-winning Yoda by pollinating a secondary part of the vine.

Another enemy is powdery mildew. “Once you see that it’s arrived, it’s already too late,” he said. Pelletier also soil tests every year, and adds a mixture of calcium and magnesium while watering to prevent rot.

But clearly all the doting has paid off, with an orange orb fit for Cinderella’s trip to the ball.

And Betelgeuse’s pageantry isn’t over yet. The pumpkin is on display at It’s About Thyme Nursery in Burnaby, before being made into a giant jack-o-lantern on Sunday (Oct. 23) by professional carver Gerry Sheena.

After that, they do the monster mash.

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