Giant pumpkin contest snaps, crackles and Popps

POULSBO — Two great big pumpkins did something fairly unusual at Valley Nursery last weekend.

They beat out a Popp. Not both Popps mind you, but it’s a start.

Poulsbo’s Valley Nursery held its 17th annual Fall Harvest Fair and Giant Pumpkin Weigh-In Sept. 28. The event features a myriad of growing contests, the most popular of which involves gargantuan gourds grown from starter plants sold by Valley each spring.

For the first time ever, the giant pumpkin competition included a challenge to growers to “Beat the Popps.” The Popp family entries usually sweep the competition, especially in the giant pumpkin category.

Last year, Michael Popp Jr. won with a 214-pound entry and dad Michael Popp Sr.’s 211-pound pumpkin took second.

This year’s giant pumpkin competition had 47 entries and 13 of the homegrown variety, which are non-giant pumpkin varieties.

This time it was Michael Popp Sr. who took top honors with his 262.5-pound gourd, but Michael Popp Jr.’s was beat out by Fred Frost’s 207-pound entry and Maggie Murphy’s 204-pounder.

For Frost, the return to the winners circle had him all smiles. He said he’s been competing since Valley started the contest and had won a few times, but most recently came in fifth last year.

Frost said he was happy to be back in the top three and said he didn’t have any real strategy of any kind.

“It’s just a little patience and pay attention to it,” he said of his technique for growing giant pumpkins.

Murphy, 8, has competed at the fall fair three other times, along with her father and brother. Last year, she took eighth place and said she didn’t have any secret, other than the fresh chicken manure she uses in the garden.

Valley owner Brad Watts said the nursery sold 887 giant pumpkin starts this year.

“We always seem to sell the same amount of starts and get the same amount of entries every year,” Watts said. “And we always seem to get very similarly-sized pumpkins as well. So, it’s really a consistent contest.”

As each winner was announced, Watts asked them for their secrets. Some shared seed sources, dirt style and other tips. But for others, prize-winning vegetation had nothing to do with technique.

Joan Peter, who’s 21-inch sunflower head was deemed widest, said Mother Nature did the work for her this year.

“It is a child of last year’s winner but I didn’t plant it — the birds did,” she said.

And still others said the contests were a chance to make lemons into lemonade. Elda Armstrong’s giant pumpkin starter failed to produce anything bigger than a common pumpkin so she entered it in the create a creature contest and won first prize.

“I figured I might as well do something with it,” she said with a laugh.

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