This week, we talk pumpkins-- giant pumpkins. Randi R. Byrd serves as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and facilitates the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network. She is also an award-winning grower of giant pumpkins.
Although Randi always had a green thumb, she only connected her interest in agricultural practice to her fascination with pumpkins in 2009. Growing a 700-pound pumpkin is a difficult feat that often requires the support of family and friends. Randi talks about the community she found not only in fellow growers of giant pumpkins, but the local Indigenous community as well as her online friends that encouraged her pursuit, performed ceremony on the land with her, and physically tilled the soil from which actual magic could grow.
Pumpkins are the perfect harbinger of fall. Around the end of September, they start appearing rapidly in grocery stores, on front porches, and in our food. For growers of giant pumpkins, however, the fruit is not a seasonal occupation. Growing pumpkins of this size requires months of planning and hard work. You must select a site in full sunlight, where the soil must be monitored and brought to the ideal pH level. The seeds should have the ideal genetics, as big pumpkins beget bigger pumpkins. Once in the ground, you must train the vines and cover them with soil to promote secondary root growth, while also watching carefully for signs of Vine Borer. A giant pumpkin takes at least 130 days to grow and each day is more vital than the last as your giant pumpkin grows into something incredible.
Growers capture the imagination of audiences at state fairs and weigh-ins, but it’s more than that — growers work to share their knowledge and seeds with other growers, promoting a community of those interested in mixing genetics and hard work to produce the stuff of fairytale. Although there is competition in the growing community, what it comes down to is cultivating land to produce more than fruit.
P.S. As Randi says, growing real magic isn’t about winning. In case you’re curious, though, the world record for giant pumpkins was in fact a whopping 2,6246 pounds set by grower Mathia Willemijn in 2016 (source).
More about our guest: Randi R. Byrd is unapologetic cultivator of love, community and absurdly large pumpkins. At the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she serves at the Community Engagement Coordinator and facilitates the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network. she collaborates with diverse indigenous communities in North Carolina and beyond around health and wellness through a holistic community lens, community grassroots organizing that values indigenous ways of knowing and practices, by facilitating and promoting tribally-vetted and culturally appropriate curricula about Native Peoples, and affirming tribal self-determination. In 2016 she was recognized by the university with the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, celebrating “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions.” Her hobbies include growing competition-sized giant pumpkins, fishing, poetry, and creating beautiful trouble with those who dare. She is currently working towards certification as a Horticultural Therapist through the NC Botanical Garden at UNC Chapel Hill and serves on the Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Native American Ethnobotany Project.
From Instagram, #giantpumpkin: