Giant pumpkins to make an appearance at Autumn on Parade

Stillman Valley couple find success with Atlantic Giants

What does it take to grow a really, really big pumpkin?

Well, start with some really, really nice neighbors, plant some really, really good Atlantic Giant seeds, add lots and lots of water, fertilizer, and sun… and oh yeah, be ready to dole out tons and tons of pampering every day.

That was the recipe Theresa Miller and her husband Keith followed this year at their rural Stillman Valley home.

“I’ve grown pumpkins for 7 years, but this year I wanted to try growing giant pumpkins,” said Theresa. “They need a lot of sun and our property has a lot of shade but our neighbors, Joe and Sandy Yockey knew I grew pumpkins and they offered a portion of their property and I said ‘yeah’.”

The Yockey’s property, located across the road from the Miller’s has not disappointed rewarding the Miller/Yockey team with Big Mama and Twaddle Butt and a handful of other “smaller” giants.

As of Sept.17, Big Mama was just over 870 pounds and Twaddle Butt was just at 760 pounds. With a couple of growing weeks ahead Theresa thought Big Mama could make 900 pounds before she and Twaddle Butt make their public debut at Oregon’s Autumn on Parade festival on Oct. 2-3.

The pumpkin pair will be located on the corner of Fifth and Washington Streets during the 2-day festival.

The pressure will shift to Keith in a couple of weeks when he is tasked with moving the pumpkins to downtown Oregon.

While AOP visitors will see the end result of the Millers’ efforts, there is much more involved in the daily grind of growing.

“We planted the seeds on Mother’s Day. I got them from the Back Yard Giant Pumpkin Growers. Even the seeds are bigger,” Theresa said laughing. “I had 6 seeds and I got 5 pumpkins out of them.”

The Millers had the Yockey’s soil tested and found out it needed a lot of fertilizer to help with the growing process. “My husband has been so patient,” said Theresa. “We water them every other day. They can grow up to 25 pounds a day.”

“We water each plant for 30 minutes. There is only one pumpkin per plant,” said Keith.

The weight of the pumpkins is estimated by measuring the pumpkin and then using a formula to get the weight.

During the summer, the pumpkins are covered with sheets to protect them from cracking in the sun. Theresa also made sure there was only one pumpkin per vine and kept a steady outlook for parasites that could have damaged the plants.

“I’m still picking off little ones that want to grow. The leaves are very important and need to be healthy. They kind of act like solar panels to feed the vine,” Theresa said.

The pumpkins have turned into a neighborhood affair with Sandy Yockey keeping an eye on the gentle giants as they bask in the sun in her backyard while other neighbors ask the Millers frequently about the pumpkins.

“The Yockeys were kind enough to give up their privacy for the pumpkin patch and now the whole neighborhood has taken an interest,” Theresa said.

Yockey said she has enjoyed watching the pumpkins grow and will miss them when they are moved.

“I have loved it,” she said. “Theresa and Keith are great and we just laugh when we see her out here everyday.”

“Sandy has actually texted me when one of the pumpkins lost its cover,” said Theresa.

“I have kinda become attached to the pumpkins,” said Sandy. “It has become a neighborhood community thing.”

In return for their use of their 900 square foot piece of land, the Millers have kept the Yockeys supplied with eggs from their chickens and beer.

“We make sure they have plenty of eggs and beer,” said Theresa smiling. “I am just so happy they let me do this. I just love showing my pumpkins. I was trying for a 500-800 pounder this year and I smashed that. My goal next year is 1,600 pounds.”

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.