First-year grower harvests blond bombshell despite plenty of challenges.
By Johanna Love, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 3, 2012
In his first season of giant pumpkin growing, Greg Hahnel got a little obsessed.
Every morning, he measured it. Every nippy night, he covered it with a blanket. He named it after a CNBC news anchor.
“It’s a burgeoning love affair,” Hahnel said Aug. 27, when his pumpkin weighed approximately 232 pounds and was gaining roughly 12 pounds a day. He hoped it would top out above 300.
Inspired last fall by a photo of an enormous gourd on the front of the Jackson Hole Daily, Hahnel ordered about $50 worth of Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds from a fellow in Oregon. Of the 10 seeds he received in the mail, only four actually germinated, two flourished as vines and one showed serious potential.
“My pumpkin’s got papers. It’s legit,” Hahnel said. “I know the mother from whence it came. I know its parents. One of the grandparents is from a famous pumpkin.”
The garden behind Hahnel’s home is shared by a handful of people in their complex on Kelly Avenue. In order to usurp the 180-square-foot raised bed for his pumpkin project, Hahnel had to “cajole” his neighbors and convince them he would make good use of it. The vines and foot-wide leaves spiderweb across the whole space. It’s still too small, Hahnel said.
“You need like 1,000 square feet to get a huge pumpkin,” he said.
Although he had gardens as a child growing up in Wisconsin, Hahnel said, they were of the ordinary sort, “nothing competitive or extreme.”
Despite the challenges of growing a gourd in a high alpine climate where there are only about 60 contiguous frost-free days per year, Hahnel was determined to make a go of it. He read dozens of articles and blogs on the Internet, prepped his raised bed with manure and used “a fair amount” of Miracle-Gro plant food.
On May 15, Hahnel planted the seeds. On Aug. 11, he began measuring his prize pumpkin each day, entering a series of figures into a smartphone application called Pumpkin Pro. That day, it weighed 51 pounds. By Sept. 13, when a hard frost struck the valley, it weighed 355. Discouraged, Hahnel stopped his daily measurements but still hoped the pumpkin would keep soaking up the sun.
Not a beauty contestant, the pumpkin is a bit misshapen, with a large dent across its girth. On its right side, deer nibbles pockmark its skin. Meet Amanda Drury.
Because he works nights as the front house manager of the restaurants Trio and Local, Hahnel is faced with a dearth of good television in the daytime. He watches a lot of CNBC, and one of its anchors is the Australian-born blond.
“She’s a pretty girl, so I thought it would be kind of funny to name an ugly pumpkin after her,” Hahnel said.
The Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-off in Salt Lake City was Saturday, so on Friday, Hahnel recruited a handful of friends to help manhandle the gourd off the ground.
“Easy now,” George Scarlett said as four men tilted Amanda Drury onto her side and one slid a wooden pallet underneath. “Don’t crack it.”
Once the pumpkin was on the pallet, Sean Scarlett deftly maneuvered a Gradall forklift and threaded the tines through the wooden slots.
The first challenge: The pallet was too wide for Hahnel’s pickup. The men slid the pallet off the Gradall tines and turned it sideways.
Next problem: Amanda Drury was too tall to fit under the truck bed’s camper shell.
No worries. Hahnel produced tools to loosen the topper then went into the bed to pull the pumpkin in and ensure his team didn’t crease the top of it.
Saturday, friends back home awaited news of how Amanda Drury fared at the contest. Hahnel’s pumpkin didn’t come close to the winning gourd, a 1,600-pound beast grown by Matt McConkie, but the blond bombshell weighed a respectable 401.5.
The real Amanda Drury didn’t return a telephone call for a comment, but when tweeted with news that a Jackson man had named his giant pumpkin after her, she replied “How amusing!” She then re-tweeted a photo of Hahnel and her namesake to her 18,292 followers.
Back in Jackson after the weekend, Hahnel gifted his pumpkin to second-grade teacher Dan Primich, who plans to paint it with his students.
For Halloween decor, Hahnel will carve the “little” 160-pound pumpkin he grew near Amanda Drury.
Come next year, he’ll spring for more seeds and try to be more competitive in Salt Lake. He’s got the growing bug.
“I’ve been comparing myself to Bill Briggs,” Hahnel said, referring to the pioneering ski mountaineer. “I can be in that pantheon. This town is filled with legends.”