Written by: Chaewon Lee
With a massive 708.5 lb pumpkin in tow, senior Chris Carlson traveled up to Elk Grove on Oct. 6 and 7 in hopes of continuing his two year winning streak in an annual pumpkin weigh-off. The weigh-off was just one part of an elaborate event called the Community Service District’s (CSD) Giant Pumpkin Festival of Elk Grove. The festival featured a castle theme, games and food booths, a live band and a race across a pond in pumpkin vessels along with the weigh-off.
Carlson had only positive words for the festival he has attended for 18 straight years. “It’s a lot of fun and a great way to make some money,” Carlson said. “My favorite part is the food,” he said. “They had a grilled cheese food truck this year, and the sandwiches were to die for.”
The festival is also great for anyone looking for an exciting and different social experience. “The whole atmosphere is great, and you make a lot of friends,” he said.
Amidst the good cheer involved, there was also a high level of seriousness in the air. “Everyone [at the weigh-off] was very competitive, but they had good humor and were friendly too,” he said. “Towards the end, a large crowd gathered around the scale, and the tensions got pretty high because everyone wanted the first place prize of $6 a pound.”
Unfortunately, Carlson just missed first place in the competition, coming behind a girl who sported a whopping 712 lb pumpkin. “It was good that [Chris’s friends Justin MacMillian] went because Christopher was going for a three [win streak], and he lost to a 12 year old girl,” Carlson’s dad Eric Carlson said. “Justin was there to cheer him up.”
For the senior, growing pumpkins holds a special appeal that other hobbies don’t offer. “The charms of growing a pumpkin is watching how fast they grow,” Chris Carlson said. “Even after all my years of doing it, I still get surprised when I go out in the morning.”
His dad’s enthusiasm for the festival influenced him to join it six years ago. Eric Carlson was one of the event’s first members, breaking a state record with a 900 lb pumpkin the year Chris was born.
Each year, father and son work in the garden to grow their pumpkins. “I only put an hour or so in a day, but my dad is out there ‘til midnight some nights,” Chris Carlson said.
Their growing routine consists of several tasks, all of which require much dedication and time. “We spend a lot of time in the patch together,” Eric Carlson said. “We prepare by making sure our soil is balanced and full of organic matter. Then we choose an Atlantic Giant seed whose genetics we like and start the plant indoors around May 1. Keeping the plant safe from cold, wind, gophers, deer, moles, rats, squirrels and mice can also be a full time job. Sometimes, they grow so fast they split. ”
According to Chris’s mom, Betty Carlson, the father-son shared hobby has brought them closer together. “[The] strengthening of any relationship is based on the amount of time you share together, and Chris and his dad bond by working together on the patch,” Betty Carlson said.
Chris Carlson learned most of his pumpkin growing skills from his more experienced dad. “Right now, his dad is teaching him about soil,” Betty Carlson said. “There is a whole microbiological world in dirt. Being a successful grower depends greatly on the health of your soil.”
Pofessional tips aside, Chris Carlson has his own, simpler version of advice for novices. “For new growers, its all about genetics,” he said. “If you have a good seed, you can just put it in the ground and get a pumpkin several hundred pounds without knowing anything.”