August 1, 2008

‘Monster’ Pumpkin Sets State Record

By Dawn Hinshaw, The State, Columbia, S.C.

Aug. 1--As they hoped, a Lexington couple's giant backyard pumpkin has indeed set a state record for weight.

Frank and Tina Finders' pampered pumpkin weighed in this morning at 897 pounds, beating the previous best of 737 pounds.

"I was hoping for 1,000 but 900 pounds is awesome," Frank Finders said.

The newlyweds have been waiting for this day for nearly four months, keeping their pumpkin moist and shady.

Two plastic hoot-owls scared curious crows from their garden in Arcadia Lakes.

"You ever seen something that big?" Tina Finders said, grinning.

At the height of the growing season, the Finders' pumpkin was putting on 60 pounds a night. It was practically growing before their eyes.

Tuesday, it stopped.

With the tape measure registering 186 inches around, Finders realized their "obsession" was as big as it was going to get.

The record weights are not verified, as neither the state Department of Agriculture nor USDA keep official track of such things.

"We don't keep the figures, but we know when we have a big one," said Becky Walton, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman.

The Finders spent much of Thursday evening figuring out how to get the behemoth fruit out of the pumpkin patch and onto a rented U-Haul trailer for the weigh-in this morning at the State Farmers Market.

With equipment for hoisting and winching, they struggled for two hours to get the giant pale vegetable onto a trailer, part of the time laboring in pouring rain, Tina Finders said.

Neighbors streamed into the backyard, visiting and hoping against hope that the homemade scaffold would hold.

Mary Carolyn McCaulley sent up a prayer.

Brenda Pogue called it "mind-boggling."

After someone fetched Jim Wilson to help with the trailer hitch, he turned back toward home, saying, "I've got to get a camera. That's a monster."

When he returned, his folks were with him.

Frank and Tina Finders -- who have matching tattoos of a flowering pumpkin vine on their shoulders -- live in an apartment in Lexington, so they borrowed a backyard plot at the home of Tina's grandmother, Jane Hammond.

The two planted their garden April 7, using seeds with a pedigree that they got off the Internet.

Frank Finders said they didn't use chemical fertilizers but probably invested $500 to $700 in cow manure, compost, seaweed and calcium, among other things.

The garden produced three pumpkins, one estimated at 350 pounds and the other at 500.

None of them were grown for eating, just for their awesome size, Tina Finders said.

After today's weigh-in, she said she doesn't know whether they'll try to preserve the pumpkin for display at the State Fair or cut it open with a chain saw to harvest the seeds, which they probably could sell for $5 apiece.

"Why do this?" Frank Finders pondered, as if that was a silly question. "Once you start, you can't stop.

"Once you've got one growing, you want it bigger and bigger and bigger."

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

Web producer Kelly Davis contributed.


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