Vines the size of garden hoses coil over the ground. Knee-deep leaves cover the yard. A bedsheet cloaks a mysterious blob.
What’s up with that?
It’s Gary Baldwin’s pumpkin that he claims weighs about 1,000 pounds.
Baldwin emailed The Daily Herald about his garden giant.
“Don’t know if anyone cares,” he wrote. “But I think I may have the largest pumpkin in Everett.”
He invited me to his yard.
“I call it a yarden. It’s a garden that grows into a yard,” Baldwin said. “It’s that much less to mow.”
He watched nervously as I stepped over the tangle of vines — the umbilical cord that carries the water and nutrients to the pumpkin. “Be careful,” he said.
He gently pulled off the sheet used to protect his progeny from vandals and garden pests. With the furrowed-brow seriousness of a scientist, he draped a measuring tape around the pumpkin’s white bulbous flesh, rattling off numbers side-to-side and end-to-end.
He plugged the figures into the internet site Over the Top for the approximate poundage. He figures there’s about a 10 percent margin of error for the squash that looks like it’s about to burst out of its skin.
“It was putting on 15 to 20 pounds a day, in its peak,” Baldwin said. “It’s fun to watch it get that big.”
He’s not alone in finding joy in cultivating corpulent fruit.
There’s a club for people who like to grow mammoth produce, the Pacific Northwest Giant Pumpkin Growers.
“It’s an addiction,” said club spokesman Geoff Gould, who drives from Kirkland to tend to his giant pumpkins in Skagit County. “We’re a strange breed, we have that in common. We’re competitive.”
Club member Matthew Radach, a Camano Island architect by day, placed fifth with his personal best of 1,223 pounds at the Washington State Fair in 2014. That’s less than half the weight of the world record pumpkin.
Using a tripod he made with an engine hoist, Radach plans to truck this year’s pumpkin to a weigh-off at Saturday’s Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival. A scale is the only way to get an accurate weight.
His theory: “It’s mostly the seed, but there’s a lot of luck that goes into it.”
Baldwin doesn’t plan to enter his in a pumpkin pageant. Not this year, at least.
Gould didn’t know of anyone in Everett with a pumpkin as big as Baldwin’s, but some people are private about the size of their pumpkins.
Big pumpkins lure big slugs. Baldwin might have the biggest slugs in town.
Baldwin, 58, a Washington Marine Cleaning production manager, has been growing pumpkins since the 1980s when his two sons were little.
“I used to be a commercial crawdad fisherman and I’d throw all the dead ones in the garden. And I didn’t buy any fantastic seed or anything and there’d be a 164-pound pumpkin there,” he said.
He took a break when the family lived on a 44-foot sailboat for more than four years in the early 2000s, mostly in the Bellingham area.
Pumpkin fever struck again after moving to Everett eight years ago. Baldwin built a greenhouse in the side yard of his white-frame duplex on a quiet side street near Everett Community College. He also grows garden-variety sized tomatoes and zucchini.
Last year, a pumpkin was a mere 190 pounds, down from his previous record of 205.
Rather than go big, it compelled him to go grand. He turned to the internet for giant pumpkin seeds in a gamble like buying magic beans.
“I Googled it and bought three for $20,” he said. “I’m a do-er.”
One seed never sprouted. One died. One took off and produced five supersized pumpkins.
The second largest, which he named Jill, is about 400 pounds. The three others are more portly than the average pumpkin.
They all get the same TLC as the giant he calls Jack.
He feeds the pumpkins horse manure, fish fertilizer and compost.
They drink a lot of water. That might be where the luck Radach credited for his prize-winning pumpkin comes in — that Baldwin has an understanding wife.
The last water bill was $180 extra, said Mary Baldwin, his wife of 33 years.
She doesn’t garden. “I pay the water bill,” she said.
The proud pumpkineer obsessively shares the progress of his produce.
“He texts us, sends us pictures and emails and keeps everyone updated,” said his co-worker Charles Jacobs.
Baldwin plans to give Jill and the smaller pumpkins to neighborhood kids. He’s got a crew lined up to move Jack to the front porch for Halloween.
“It’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of beer and a bunch of strong friends,” he said.
“We’ll roll it over there, disembowel it and carve a face on it. Jack-o’-lantern it.”
He plans to put a basic pumpkin grin on it and call it good.
As for the seeds, he’s giving those away and saving some, hopeful that Jack’s offspring can live up to his stature.
Next year, the pumpkin king plans to strike again.