Giant pumpkins return to Autumn on Parade festival in Oregon

Twaddle D2 weighs in at 1,032

Theresa Miller of Stillman Valley poses between Twaddle D2 (left) and Tank after they were moved to the west side of the historic Ogle County Courthouse in Oregon for this weekend's Autumn on Parade festival.

OREGON – Theresa Miller needed a very special ingredient this year to coax “Twaddle D2″ past the half-ton mark.

“She started growing late, so I had a long talk with her, and then I told my husband that she was going to be the ‘one,’ and then she just took off,” Miller said.

That “taking off” was the giant pumpkin growing to a whopping 1,032 pounds – Miller’s largest pumpkin of her growing career.

Twaddle D2 and her patch mate, Tank, were moved to downtown Oregon on Thursday afternoon to be on display at this weekend’s Autumn on Parade festival.

At a svelte 615 pounds, Tank and his big sister can be seen in the 100 block of South Fifth Street, west of the historic Ogle County Courthouse, right in the center of the two-day fall festival.

But the journey to the festival grounds this year was not an easy one.

“We had so much water with all the rain,” said Miller, who grows the pumpkins at her home in rural Stillman Valley. “When you have that much water, you hope and pray the pumpkin stays dry underneath. They sit on styrofoam on sand, but you don’t know if they are solid underneath until you lift them up and have a look.”

Miller and her husband Keith have grown pumpkins for eight years but moved on to the giants last year. Because giant pumpkins need a lot of sun, the Millers also grow the giants on property owned by their neighbors, Joe and Sandy Yockey, that has more sun exposure.

That property, located across the road from the Millers, has not disappointed, rewarding the Miller/Yockey team with Big Mama and Twaddle Butt last year and three giants this year.

The seeds were planted on Mother’s Day, and after daily tending – including shade for hot days, fertilizer, water and plenty of sweet talk and sweat – the Millers created this year’s batch.

“I planted six giants this year, and we ended up with three,” Theresa said. “We left the other 1,000-pounder at home.”

Twaddle B2 came from a seed from last year’s Twaddle Butt, which tipped the scale at 760 pounds.

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.

Jeremy Benesh of Benesh & Sons uses a skidsteer to move Tank one of Theresa Miller's giant pumpkins next to the 1,032-pound Twaddle B2 on N. Fifth Street for this weekend's Autumn on Parade festival.

She also has to reposition the pumpkins when they start to grow so as not to damage their stems.

Twaddle D2′s stem has a diameter between 5 and 6 inches.

“You have to position them just right,” she said. “I pick 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. We had one that was at 300 pounds, but then stopped growing. You have to decide who you are going to keep.”

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

Twaddle D2 finished fifth at a giant pumpkin contest in Minooka. The winner weighed in at 1,800 pounds.

When Twaddle D2′s festival tour ends Sunday, she will return home, where Keith will carve her out so the Millers’ five grandchildren can climb inside, just in time for Halloween.

The remainder of the pumpkins are then placed in a back field where deer eat them in January, Theresa said.

And she openly admits that growing giants has become somewhat of an addiction.

“I told my husband that after these I was done, but then eight hours later I started planning for next year,” she said. “I have some seeds from an 1,800-pounder that I am going to plant.”

Earleen Hinton

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