Kennewick man successfully grows colossal pumpkins

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 1, 2012 

Jerry Combs thinks it's funny when children passing his Kennewick home notice the two large pumpkins -- one as big as a car tire and weighing about 150 pounds -- outside his front door.

"They say 'Those are so big!' " Combs said. "And I say 'No, those are the small ones.' "

Combs has spent five years trying to grow pumpkins weighing as much as 200 pounds.

This year, he succeeded. He grew the three jack-o-lanterns, large enough to hold a small child and illuminated by workshop lamps, facing Highway 395 from his backyard just south of Fourth Avenue.

One pumpkin may tip the scales at 400 pounds, he estimates.

Combs, dressed as a farmer in overalls, boots and a straw hat, said Halloween is one of his favorite holidays. He's enjoyed trying to grow pumpkins as large as he could, despite limited results.

Early on, he bought seeds labeled as giant varieties from home improvement and garden stores, but those only got as large as 90 pounds, he said.

Last year, Combs raised one pumpkin to a weight of 185 pounds after getting ahold of seeds from the Mid-Columbia.

This year, though, he went international. He paid $12 for 14 seeds from Howard Dill Enterprises in Windsor, Nova Scotia -- home of the Dill's Giant Atlantic Pumpkin variety.

According to the farm's website, it sells seeds of varieties that tip the scales at 1,000 pounds.

But Combs said obtaining seeds from a giant pumpkin isn't a guarantee of success. He gave some of those seeds to others for their patches. Some didn't produce any plants, while others grew vines for a few weeks before suddenly dying.

Of the three seeds Combs planted, only two produced viable plants.

"A lot of it is just luck," he said.

There are recommendations on when to plant and other tips to produce the best pumpkins, but Combs said he didn't necessarily follow them. Rather, he planted his seeds late and, except for a little fertilizer he mixed into the soil and regular watering, the only special care he gave them was paying attention to the pumpkins once they formed.

"I'd try to rotate them so they wouldn't get any flat spots, but they grow so fast," Combs said.

To carve the bigger ones, which range in size from more than 6 feet to about 9 feet in circumference, he used a reciprocating saw to cut them open. He then scooped out the insides. He used a hand saw to carve through the 6 inches of flesh and form the face. Larger pumpkins were carved with their stem on the ground because the pumpkins' natural bottoms are too deformed to support them.

The gourds were too huge to move from Combs' backyard -- coincidentally two houses from a large-scale amateur vineyard -- so he carved them on the spot and positioned them to face Highway 395. He and an adult son took down a wooden fence that blocked the view so passing motorists and people walking on the sidewalk can see them.

Combs said he doesn't know the exact weight of the pumpkins. That question will be answered after Halloween, when he plans to cut them up and weigh the pieces to determine that.

But the pumpkins have become a neighborhood focal point and part of a local Halloween-themed scavenger hunt.

"I've had a bunch of people come by and just ask to take photos," he said.

His celebrity in that neighborhoods is short-lived, though. Combs plans to move soon to Pasco, ahead of his wedding this winter.

That doesn't mean there won't be giant pumpkins in the neighborhood next Halloween. His future parents-in-law will be moving into the house, and he is thinking of planting a few seeds next year.

"Hopefully we'll get some more big ones," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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