As a recovering software engineer, I sometimes find myself missing the geek culture that can make a cubicle-land work environment slightly tolerable. So when Mike (a software engineer who also keeps bees in my garden) showed up one day with an assistant named Pavel (a Russian software engineer co-worker who was apparently a legendary beekeeper back in his home country) and they started bantering, like only engineering types can do, I was drawn into discussions of homemade experiments and the grand schemes that always punctuate these interactions.
Pavel and Mike knew another guy named Gregory, who had apparently acquired the seeds of a championship giant pumpkin. The three of them were working to perfect their seed germination skills with the use of a custom built germination box that they were keeping under their desks at work. I was instantly in love with the idea that something as magical as a pumpkin that weighs as much as an elevator full of people, could have its life begin in a place as soul crushing as the average American office space. I’ve been following along ever since.
It is the end of summer now and they not only succeeded, but as of the writing of this story (early September 2014), Pavel has a pumpkin on the vine that is currently 100 inches in diameter and estimated to be well over 300 pounds.
This is a far cry from the world record, but I am duly amazed and Pavel is clearly proud of this enormous thing that he has cultivated. Gregory has been acting as Pavel’s coach through this season, as he has been growing giant pumpkins for years. In fact, Gregory’s own record is quite impressive; his first real effort yielded a 600 pound specimen and he followed it the next year with two 900 pound giants. In his third year he had an even larger contender, but heartbreakingly, it grew too fast and split late in the season.
As I prepared to write this story I spent some time chatting with Gregory who approaches growing with the thoroughness of a true scientist. The first thing he shared with me were the words of his mentor Steve Sperry: “We grow them to show them.” There is simply no other reason to do this except to enjoy the excited amazement of others.
Our conversation wandered through all sorts of insider advice about growing and on to his regret that his current mentee (Pavel) could have had a much bigger season if only he had done a few things just so
(Pavel, for his part, is perfectly satisfied). Then, as our conversation began to wind down, Gregory picked up on my own sense of romance about the idea. Like some sort of street corner drug dealer he slyly offered to get me some good seeds if I wanted to give it a try.
I have to admit I’m thinking about it, but I worry that I just might get hooked …