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Otterville’s Steve Swinhoe grows a ‘pretty darn good’ Atlantic Giant pumpkin

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

It wasn’t the ‘great’ pumpkin of cartoon fame, the 1,884-pound Norfolk County Fair record-setter or the recent 2,560-pound Minnesotan behemoth.

Big Pumpkin
It may not be ‘the great pumpkin’ of cartoon fame, but Otterville resident Steve Swinhoe’s 952-pounder represents not only his personal best Atlantic Giant, but a credible performance in the intriguing and challenging world of giant squash. Following its weigh-in at the Norfolk Fair, Swinhoe donated it for an ongoing fall display at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

But Otterville resident Steve Swinhoe’s 952-pound personal best represented more-than-credible progress in the wonderful if slightly wacky world of growing massive Atlantic Giant pumpkins.

“I’ve got a lot to learn and am just having fun doing it,” smiled the retired carpenter.

Swinhoe’s quest for sizeable squash began in Alberta, dipping his green thumb into the competitive gardening pool with a 150-pounder at a Smoky Lake weigh-off.

“Nothing big, but it was just to see some of the big ones.”

Always intrigued by great pumpkins and with his appetite to try and improve his production whetted, Swinhoe found more time and space upon retirement in Ontario. He was able to upgrade his approach through proven rather than boughten seed, and pointers and much-appreciated technique and tips gleaned from conversation with Aylmer grower John Butler.

“Some are very secretive about their technique but a lot are willing to share,” says Swinhoe.

Pumpkin Scars
It may be nutty to consider, but Steve Swinhoe’s 952-pound pumpkin still bears the scars from a squirrel’s attack on what was then a young and small Atlantic Giant.

He started germination indoors at the end of April, taking the show outside after the May long weekend. Female flowers are covered to allow specifically targetted pollination with desired genetics, and then covered again. “One pollination and done.”

Everyone has their own fertigation recipe, some rumoured to include milk, however Swinhoe’s approach was water-soluble fertilizer and lots of water. In Alberta, he had better access to composted cow manure, and will be looking to source some here in order to upgrade the sandy soil in his backyard pumpkin patch.

“I believe they need lots of nitrogen,” he surmised.

Swinhoe also is looking at expanding the size of his patch, per pumpkin, from a current 3-400-square feet. “Some guys have as much as 900-1,200 for one plant.”

He monitored progress every day, noting his pollinated flowers didn’t do much for a week or so, “and then started growing.”

Pumpkins are covered to protect them from the sun, with Swinhoe’s garden progressing well through July, August and the first couple of weeks of September.

“The last couple of weeks, they hit a wall,” he said at the end of the latter month.

Swinhoe grew four giants this year, three of which adorn his driveway. He estimates two at between 400 and 500 pounds, the third a little smaller.

“Two and a half, maybe.”

Bragging rights are officially earned at weigh-offs, some sanctioned by The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (, an international body whose mission is to “cultivate 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.”

It also offers resources for perspective growers, including quick tips on what makes pumpkins grow large: hard work and dedication, good seed genetics, good soil, limiting crops to one fruit per plant, good weather - and good luck.

Swinhoe’s pumpkin’s weight was confirmed at the Port Elgin Pumpkinfest after being rolled onto a tarp by seven men, lifted onto a pallet and loaded into the back of his truck with a farm tractor load complete with forks. Delhi’s Dave McQuay took first place there at 1888.5 pounds,

Swinhoe’s mentor Butler was third at 1,624 (also taking top honours in the squash, 1,335.5 pounds; long gourd, 148.25 pounds; tomato, 6.05 pounds; sunflower, 332.5 inches; and cornstalk, 261.5 inch divisions) Vienna’s Erik and Marius Van Sommeren checked in at 1,227 and 357.5 pounds respectively, and Swinhoe finished in the top ten with 952.

He had been hoping for 500 pounds this year, a target his largest pumpkin smashed and came close to doubling.

“It turned out I did a lot better - and I’m more than happy.”

It’s hard, and as it turns out, not a thing to estimate how many pies could be created from massive squash.

“I don’t think they’re good to eat - not much flavour in there, or so they say.”

But as well as extending the line on his personal best, the pumpkin has only extended Swinhoe’s enthusiasm for continuing next year.

“Bigger, that’s the next goal,” he smiled in conclusion. “Always improve, right?” 

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