louis martin
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Half Moon Bay--

"It's no longer alive," said Larry Centoni with a chuckle. He was speaking about his prize-winning, 448-pound pumpkin.

The lives of the great pumpkins are often short. Few make it to Halloween. Thick skin and 4 or 5 inches of meat does not make them invulnerable.

Said Centoni, retired fire chief of Half Moon Bay, "They should go a couple of weeks, depending on the pumpkin itself. If the shell is real hard, then they last a little longer." Centoni's big pumpkin started to decay from the inside out, he said. It won third place in the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. Even the first-place winner's pumpkin, weighing in at 875 pounds, "started to weep a little too," said Centoni.

That pumpkin was grown at Tenino, Washington by Jack LaRue, Centoni's in Half Moon Bay. Some of the greatest pumpkins in recent times have come from Oregon and Washington.

And in recent years the size of pumpkins entered in contests has gone up dramatically. A 200-pound pumpkin used to be considered large, but these days a 200 pounder might as well stay at home to be carved up as a jack-o'-lantern.

Asked if there is a trick to producing really large Pumpkins, the retired fire chief said, "The first thing you've got to do is devote yourself to it." Being retired helps.

One of the problems is that due to size, the pumpkin can grow up over the vine, so that there is no slack. That can cause it to split. "It either splits the vine itself," said Centoni, "or sometimes the stem of the pumpkin will split."

Centoni's 468 pounder in fact split the vine in the last month of its growth. If it had not split the vine, Centoni predicted it would have been 50 or 60 pounds heavier.

On the California coast, pumpkins are normally planted May 1st and harvested by early October. Some make it to Halloween, some don't.

There are a number of competitions each year. The biggest is an international contest held in San Francisco and sponsored by the International Pumpkin Association (IPA). For that contest, pumpkins growers in other countries enter their pumpkins by calling in a weight that is confirmed by the IPA in the other country.

Russia entered the international contest for the first time this year with a 60-pound pumpkin. The former Soviet Republic has gotten the idea of competition but apparently not the knack.

The largest pumpkin was grown in New York this year. It weighted in at 968 pounds.


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