|The Pumpkin King of the World|
When Linus of the cartoon strip sneaks out into the garden each Hallowe'en to await the arrival of "The Great Pumpkin", Peanuts and Lucy are more than skeptical that such a creature exists. They jeer. Meanwhile, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Howard Dill is up to his neck in the largest pumpkins in the world.
They don't call Howard "The Pumpkin King of the World" for nothing. The Great Pumpkin, indeed. Howard broke the world record four years in a row and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some competitors wanted him banned from further competition. He was just too darned good.
Now, just a minute here! Who would want to grow great, orange Hallowe'en lanterns full of pulp and seeds and weighing up to 700 pounds? That's a lot of pumpkin pie!
"It's not for pumpkin pie," Howard says. "These pumpkins are grown
from genetically-improved seed stock. A technique I developed myself." On
Canada's Thanksgiving Day 18 weigh-off sites around the world competed
for the largest pumpkin title.
Yes, but what's the incentive?
"There's a lot of satisfaction in being called the Pumpkin King of the World. I have been successful in winning four world championships but competition is becoming stronger every year as the interest grows. There are a lot of people out there who want to be king or queen of something. Why not pumpkins?"
The largest pumpkin Howard had grown to date weighed 616 pounds and that was only good enough for second prize. A Chicago deejay auctioned the pumpkin off and proceeds went to a children's hospital in the Windy City.
There's a sidebar story to the Chicago pumpkin.
"It took longer to clear it through American customs than it took to fly it there from Nova Scotia. They brought in the drug squad because they couldn't believe it was just a pumpkin in the crate."
Under the terms of agreement with pumpkin buyers, they may keep a few seeds, but the bulk comes back to Howard.
"The secret in growing big pumpkins is the seed, and that's my secret."
From little pumpkin seeds large businesses grow. Howard Dill now has two farms in the United States, 10 acres in Colorado and 10 acres in California, where his Canadian seed is sent for reproduction. But his main patch is still at Windsor, 40 miles from Halifax, where he also raises fruit and beef cattle on a 100 acre farm. Although the main focus is on pumpkins, and, more particularly, the seeds that will grow world-beaters.
"I recently had a phone call from China and another from Leningrad in the Soviet Union asking about my seeds. It seems people all over the world are hooked on growing giant pumpkins. "
In the winter months, Howard and his son Danny get down to the serious job of filling mail order requests from Canada, the U.S., Britain, Holland, Japan and elsewhere. In 1990 they responded to more than 5,000 such letters. Seeds, seven to a packet, sell for $5.00. To increase the mail order business, the Dills plan to bring out a seed catalogue. They already advertise through a newsletter that extols the wisdom of buying seeds from "Atlantic Giant": "if you want to win the Lemans, you need to drive a Ferrari, not a pick-up truck. If you want to go to the moon you need a rocket, not a pogo stick. If you want to raise a world-class pumpkin, your choice is clear: Howard Dill's Atlantic Giant."
According to an article in the May 1990 Financial Post, Howard Dill's annual seed production generates $1.4 million in sales.
That's a far cry from Howard's humble beginning. He got his start by following in his father's footsteps 30 years ago. His dad grew big pumpkins for a hobby. Howard saw the potential of marketing seeds from the improved
variety of product he developed. At the time he began to compete in fairs and exhibitions across the continent, a 70 or 80 pounder was guaranteed a title.
The 100-pound barrier, reached in the early sixties, was the equivalent of the four-minute mile.
It was Howard's own determination and foresight that led to the breeding of the best seed in the world and why growers around the world are now clamoring for them.
A self-taught geneticist, Howard developed the species and protects the fruits of his labour by having the species patented under the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act.
The hope of growing a giant is one thing, but how do you move the blessed thing once it takes over your garden patch?
"As there got to be more and more serious growers out there, ways and means developed to move them safely. There are pumpkin carrying devices now with five or six handles on them so that people can grab and lift the pumpkin into a half-ton truck or whatever."
Would quiet, unassuming, almost shy, Howard Dill get into this now highly-competitive business given the chance to do it again?
"Looking back to the time when I went away to the World Championships in 1976 in Ohio, I never realized what the good Lord had in store for me. I love it. It's made my life!"
It's also made him a Canadian Achiever featured in the National Geographic Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Old Farmers Geographic, and this book.
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