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GIANT PUMPKIN Huge entry squashes all competition

Saturday, October 22, 2005

When the contest is over, pumpkins turn into boats.
GOFFSTOWN, N.H. -- What kind of a man does it take to grow a 1,300-pound pumpkin?
He needs patience, of course, for the six-month growing season, and enough dedication to work two hours every night in the patch. And it helps to have a familiarity with plant breeding and a $100 Giant Pumpkin lifting tarp. All of the things you'd expect.
Plus one more: A big-time pumpkin grower needs to be comfortable with cheering crowds.
That's why, even before Jim Beauchemin brought his pale-orange monster squash to the famous Topsfield Fair weigh-off, he already had a victory speech prepared.
'I won!'
"Not only did I go to the Super Bowl," Beauchemin, 47, bellowed to the hundreds of spectators when the numbers of the scale finally settled at a best-in-show 1,314.8 pounds, "I won the Super Bowl!"
That's what it feels like when you're a winner in the ultra-competitive world of giant pumpkins. This once-sleepy rural hobby features international rankings, raucous weigh-offs and a racehorse-style trade in the seeds of champions. Enthusiasts say it comes as close to true sport as anything can be -- and still be mainly about produce.
The pumpkins in question here are not just overfed siblings of the ones that make Halloween jack-o'-lanterns. Instead, they come from a strain called Dill's Atlantic Giant, specially bred for rapid growth and very thick walls.
Beauchemin runs a landscaping business in a tiny burg north of Manchester, N.H. His win at Topsfield has made him one of the top growers in New England, and placed him eighth in the world this year, according to a ranking organization called the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.
Float your boat
So how do you cap off a pumpkin season like this?
In Goffstown, you turn a pumpkin into a boat. This weekend is the annual pumpkin regatta, in which Atlantic Giants are hollowed out to make room for a single passenger, then fitted with trolling motors and paraded on the Piscataquog River.