EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Now, THAT’S a great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Up until Saturday, October 14th, the Wisconsin state pumpkin record was 2,283 pounds. Brian Mathiowetz of Cleghorn saw that pumpkin and raised it another 137 pounds. His pumpkin, Macie, (named after his daughter’s yellow lab) weighed in at 2,420 pounds. Mathiowetz says that the way it works is officials come around and look at your pumpkin and give an estimate of what they believe its weight will be. They deemed his pumpkin to weigh, probably, around 2,070 pounds. After the estimate, they officially weigh your pumpkin and deem it a percentage over or under the estimate. He says, “When they weighed it, they counted down from 5 and then removed a towel that was hiding the scale. I thought it said 2,040 pounds and I was happy. I just wanted to get to a ton. You get a $1000 bonus if your pumpkin weighs a ton. Then, when I saw what it actually said (2,420 pounds) everyone went crazy and so did I.”
The Master Gardener put in a lot of work to get his pumpkin up to weight. He had to fight a lack of rain, sometimes watering for up to 8 hours a day, as well as the heat and critters. Mathiowetz says, “I had to use fans and blowers and other things. Mice don’t care much for the noise but striped gophers will adapt to it. I even had a family of toads living under it during the summer, but they won’t do anything to the fruit so that was ok.”
Fighting the elements and wildlife isn’t the only pitfall one must manage in getting one’s giant fruit to the scale. First, with this pumpkin specifically, getting onto a trailer could be a problem. Macie wouldn’t fit onto Mathiowetz’s 6.5-foot trailer, so he had to rent a U-Haul to even get it to competition. Then, as if that wasn’t daunting enough, Mathiowetz explained that a lot of pumpkins don’t even make it to the scale because if they crack, they are done and won’t be weighed.
Mathiowetz sways he was at Down to Earth Garden Center, in Eau Claire, looking at fertilizers when he saw an advertisement for a “How to Grow Giant Pumpkins Seminar”. It piqued his interest, so he attended. That next year he grew a 640-pound pumpkin. Then, the following season, after really leaning into the process, he notched a 1,600-pound beauty. He followed that with an 1,890-pound goliath, and then a 1,974-pound behemoth. All making way for the new Wisconsin State record, Macie.
Oh, and pumpkins aren’t all he does. He entered 6 fruits into the contest this year. A field pumpkin (the type of pumpkin that would normally become a jack-o-lantern) a bushel gourd, a marrow, a giant watermelon, a 1,581-pound giant squash (the largest squash in Wisconsin this year), and the giant Atlantic pumpkin that would set the record. He said that his fruits have been on display at different locations around Eau Claire and the Minnesota Zoo. Currently, Macie is on display at the Down to Earth Garden Center. His only rule when his giant fruits go out on display is that he gets his seeds back.
If you are interested in more pumpkin facts and the world of Giant Fruit growing, Mathiowetz encourages you to check out the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. That is the governing body and organization of the giant fruit community. Or, for things closer to home, visit wisconsingiantpumpkingrowers.com
People like to say that Mathiowetz is very lucky to have grown such a giant pumpkin. That is awful reductive and incredibly dismissive of the mountains of work this man put in for no other reason than a love of gardening. Brian says that he isn’t lucky as much as he is blessed. Blessed to be in this area of pumpkin growers. The community of giant fruit growers come together and root for each other. No pun intended. They all want to see each other succeed and share tips with each other. When a weight is revealed, everyone cheers and is genuinely happy for each other’s successes.
Mathiowetz went on to say that tending to a garden like this is 4 to 5 hours of work after a full day at his regular job but it’s something he loves to do. You can hear how much pride he takes in being able to grow fruits and vegetables in the way he talks about the process. It’s not just the glitz and glamour of growing large pumpkins that keeps him going. When I asked him what the next goal was, he told me, in great detail, how he would take a year off to replenish and recharge the soil. He explained, “One teaspoon of soil will have thousands of bacteria and nutrients in it,” and that planting cover crops and grasses to refuel that soil is his next move. This man is an artist. His medium: vegetation. His masterpiece: the bounty that feeds his friends and family. And very… VERY… large fruits.