Friendly sport of competitive pumpkin growing comes to Canton

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum

CANTON — Gourds of all shapes and sizes, but mostly great and globular, rolled into Riverview Tree Farm for the Great South Dakota Pumpkin Weigh-Off on Saturday.

An Atlantic Giant and common pumpkin lay in a truck bed. Gardeners take great care to carefully transport their oversized vegetables.

Growers from the Midwest region carried their prized pumpkins by truck bed and trailer-hitch like Egyptian pharaohs riding in palanquins — the analogy works if you trade four servants for 4x4 transmission — to the competitor's staging field.

There, the varicose vegetables were weighed, measured and counted by contest organizers. Prizes were awarded to submissions with the heaviest weight and longest length, and adults and children competed in separate categories.

Lisa Schranel, a giant pumpkin grower from New London, Minn., told Farm Forum she usually spends around 40 hours a week in her pumpkin patch, where she has raised giant gourds with her partner, Jim Magnuson. She said they acquired their growing ambitions after viewing giant pumpkins at a state fair booth.

"I kind of smarted off to the lady behind the booth and said, 'I could grow one of those,' Schranel said. "[Jim] said 'you've got to prove we can do that in the spring,' so that's kind of how it started … [but] you don't really realize how much work is involved and what it all takes."

A father holds her daughter as she feels the rind of a giant pumpkin against her cheek at the Great South Dakota Pumpkin Weigh-Off on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. The growers contest is one of a series of harvesttime events put on by Riverview Tree Farm near Canton, South Dakota

Tamara Ziems, a grower from Ewing, Nebraska, took fourth place with their 284-pound giant pumpkin. She said pumpkin growing is a friendly sport and the sense of community is just as strong as the sense of competition.

Schranel said kids get the biggest kick out of seeing the giant pumpkins and usually bring a seemingly endless list of questions.

"You can give it a hug," Schranel said to a young girl who approached her 716-pound pumpkin during an interview. "There's always pumpkin love."

She added giant pumpkins are part of what she called "extreme gardening," and the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, an international organization of competitive gardeners, has regulations for growing oversized vegetables and tips for aspiring extreme gardeners.

"If you talked to growers, they're more than happy, usually, to help you out and get started and share their seeds for you," Schranel said.

Cade, Claire and Kate Kroger of Harrisburg, South Dakota took second place in the youth category for their 196-pound pumpkin.

Pumpkin Weigh-Off results

  • Youth
    • 1st: Scarlett B., 207 pounds
    • 2nd: Cade, Kate and Claire Kroger, 196 pounds
    • 3rd: William D., 127 pounds
Ryan Althoff, a giant pumpkin grower from Watertown, South Dakota, took home first place in the adult category for his 856-pound pumpkin.
  • Adults
    • 1st: Ryan Althoff of Watertown, South Dakota, 856 pounds
    • 2nd: Jim Magnuson and Lisa Schranel of New London, Minnesota, 716 pounds
    • 3rd: Lance Johnson of Plankinton, South Dakota, 428 pounds
    • 4th: Larry and Tamara Ziems of Ewing, Nebraska, 284 pounds
    • 5th: Cody Bents of Mitchell, South Dakota, 221 pounds
    • 6th: Delores Bents of Mitchell, South Dakota, 153 pounds
  • Special Categories:
    • Field Pumpkin: Larry and Tamara Ziems, 42 pounds
    • Longest Gourd: Lance Johnson, 86 inches