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NSW gardener sets new record for biggest pumpkin in southern hemisphere


A gardener from northern New South Wales has set a new record for the biggest pumpkin in the southern hemisphere, beating his previous record by more than 100kg.

Dale Oliver from Knockrow, near Ballina about 750km north of Sydney, presented the Atlantic pumpkin to be weighed at the Summerland pumpkin competition at Kyogle on Saturday.

The colossal vegetable was covered with a tarp to make the 70km journey on the back of a ute from Oliver’s home to the Kyogle showgrounds, and carefully weighed using a forklift and a network of straps.

It weighed in at a whopping 867kg, beating the previous record for Australia’s heaviest pumpkin of 743kg, also held by Oliver.

The new record was certified by the Australian Giant Pumpkins and Vegetables Supporters society, where Oliver also holds the record for Australia’s largest giant green squash, a 612kg specimen grown in 2015.

Oliver told the ABC it took “a lot of work” to grow the the enormous Cucurbita, which required careful pruning, fertilising, and soil testing. “There’s a lot of science in it,” he told the ABC.

He also had to contend with hot spells which cause the giant pumpkins to stop growing.

“We got that hot spell in November and it really slowed this, but it picked up again,” Oliver said. “It’s a shame we got the heat. It may have done better.”

The world of competitive giant vegetable growing has gone through something of a renaissance in 2020, particularly in the UK. Three world records were set in the UK in September: the world’s heaviest red cabbage (31.6kg); the word’s longest salsify (5.6 metres); and the world’s longest beetroot (8.6 metres); and the UK’s heaviest ever pumpkin weighed in at 1,176.5kg in October.

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The world record for the heaviest pumpkin is 1,190.49kg, held by Belgium Mathias Willemijns for an Atlantic giant grown in 2016.

Australian Kathy Ffoulkes, from Shoalwater in Western Australia, was also entered into the Guinness World Records in 2020 for growing the world’s longest snake melon, which measured 136cm.

The Diggers Club chief executive Tim Sansom said growing giant vegetables was “a scientific challenge”. The soil must be well prepared and rich with nutrients, moisture kept up but not overdone, and the climate warm enough to encourage growth but not so warm as to split fruit and send things to seed.

Competitive giant vegetable growing is not as popular in Australia as it is in the UK and the US, Sansom said, which could explain why Australia’s records are slightly lower than those set overseas.

But interest in growing vegetables at home has jumped during the pandemic. The Diggers Club experienced a 400 to 500% increase in orders when the first national lockdown began in March, and now has 80,000 members, some 10,000 more than at the start of 2020.

For novice gardeners keen to dip their toe in the waters of giant veg, Sansom recommends trying to grow a giant marrow, a feat many gardeners manage by accident if they forget to check the zucchini bush. Marrows are “basically an inflated zucchini”, he said. They taste horrible but grow quite big.

Pumpkins are trickier. “Pumpkins are probably for the well-studied, if you want an enormous one,” Sansom said.

A giant pumpkin was included in the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893, though it only weighed a 165kg – paltry by today’s standards.

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These days pumpkin-growing competitions are dominated by Atlantic giants, a breed developed in Nova Scotia in the 1970s and reputed to taste horrible. “It was selected for its enormousness not its palatability,” Sansom said.

Australian gardeners, who tend to grow pumpkins to eat, usually favour Australian developed varieties like Queensland Blue, Jarrahdale, and Ironbark. Home gardeners who wish to see how big those varieties can get are advised to follow the same basic formula as Oliver: prepare your soil with rich organic matter and keep the water up.

“It’s all in the preparation,” Sansom said.



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