Size matters: Man's 350kg pumpkin has its own 'house'
DRIVING down a dirt road in what felt like the middle of nowhere, I got lost looking for a giant pumpkin.
Yes, you heard right a giant pumpkin, about 350kg in size to be precise.
Making my way through back roads of The Caves, I recounted the directions given to me over the phone.
Despite following them to the best of what little ability I had, I found myself at the giant pumpkin house.
Or so I thought.
About eight people with beers in hand looked at me as I got out of The Morning Bulletin car, I was clearly at the wrong house and very out of place.
Instead of introducing myself, the first thing that came out of my mouth was "I'm looking for a giant pumpkin, is this the right place?".
I was greeted with a few giggles, but I was surprised when everyone actually knew exactly where I had to go.
"Oh you must be looking for Russ, he's down the road a bit, just under that big tree you can see," one man advised.
I had a laugh to myself as I got back in the car. I thought, this bloke with the pumpkin must be well known around these parts.
Heading "down the road a bit" I found the right house.
My car was waved down and I was on my way to coming face to face with this mammoth pumpkin.
I was greeted by pumpkin grower and larrikin Russell Vogel, who was quick to tell me his daughter, Kelly Joyce was the one who dobbed him in.
"Rightly so," Kelly said.
"You're pumpkin-growing skills need to be recognised."
Keen to see this pumpkin that had been growing since mid December, we made our way to the back of the house where I was greeted by a pumpkin patch, bigger than my bedroom, measuring 11 meters by 11 meters.
I could see the pumpkin patch, which was a result of one vine, but I failed to locate the actual pumpkin. Surely I couldn't miss a giant vegetable.
"Come on I'll show you where it is," Russell said.
"Just be careful, try not to step on the main vein, oh and keep a look out for taipans."
I let out a nervous giggle as I tiptoed through the patch with my open-toe shoes on, trying to avoid both pumpkin veins and deadly snakes.
I still don't know if Russell was joking about the taipans or not.
The 350kg pumpkin was covered by green shade cloth which had been fashioned into its very own house. That's right this pumpkin had its very own house to protect it.
"It is undercover to keep the skin soft so the sun doesn't harden the skin," Russell said to me.
"So if it gets a boost of water like rain, it is not just going to blow up and split because its skin is still soft and it will stretch with it."
"Because of the rate it grows, the skin needs to keep up with it, it is very prone to exploding," Kelly chimed in.
Atlantic Giant was the type of pumpkin, fitting name really, and at one stage it was gaining 10kg a day for two weeks straight.
Not knowing anything about the art of cultivating pumpkins, Russell gave me the run down on the dynamics of growing giant vegetables.
"Once you select the pumpkin you're going to keep, you only have a day that a person can physically lift it, it grows that fast," he said.
"It has to be as big as a football at least before you know whether they are properly fertilised and if they are going to grow.
"I always try and get the pumpkin to grow off the main vein, that is the thickest vine and then you will get secondaries off it and you will even get tertiary ones off that."
It soon made sense as to why I had to avoid stepping on the main vein. It turns out that is how the pumpkin gets all of its necessary nutrients to grow, essentially it's an umbilical cord for pumpkins.
The secret to its size however lies in the use of cow and horse manure for fertilising.
"It's been like a child, it has had lots of attention," Kelly laughed.
"I looked after it, when they went away and I got instructions on how to make a fungal spray for it and I had to make sure it was watered everyday."
After two months of growing the vine and two months of growing the pumpkin itself, D-day is this weekend for Russell.
Entering it into the pumpkin section of The Caves show, he is hoping to take out the win for a second year in a row.
"My mate grew one the year before last and won and I thought I can do better than that, that is how it all started," Russell said.
"I took out my first win with 217kg pumpkin. My estimate for this one is about 350kg."
However moving the pumpkin will prove to be a careful operation, involving a forklift and ute.
"We will have to dig down under it and put a pallet there then lift it with the fork lift and drop it onto the ute," he said.
As for what they will do with the pumpkin after the show, Russell said it was a little less glamorous than the transportation.
"We will do with it what I did last time, feed it to the cows," he said.
"You could make something out of it but it probably won't taste too good because it is watery."
While he does hope to claim first place, Russell said at the end of the day it was just a hobby he loved doing.
"It's a hobby when you have a beer in the afternoon and you can go water it," he said.