Emmett May is the salt-of-the-earth type, so it only makes sense that he’s a gardener. He is understated and unassuming when you speak to him, so you would never guess that he’s Montana’s record-holding pumpkin grower.
On October 3, 2015, he weighed his latest giant pumpkin during “The Great Pumpkin Weigh Off!” at Murdoch’s in Polson, MT. May took first prize again this year with a personal best 1,047-lb pumpkin. A close second place competitor weighed 1,027 pounds.
When I spoke to him recently, May said his quest for giant pumpkins began simply. He and his wife were wandering the aisles, buying seeds, and thought it would be fun to try growing pumpkins. That first season, he grew a 200-pounder. Intrigued, May started researching. “After that, they got bigger, bigger, bigger,” he said.
Bigger indeed. May’s pumpkins, season over season, kept growing until he reached the 600-pound mark. “After a few years, realized I wasn’t doing something right.” At that point, the pumpkins’ growth plateaued. “For 4 or 5 years, I couldn’t break the 600-pound barrier,” he said. Rather than being satisfied with these monster pumpkins, May continued studying, determined to break the 600-pound barrier.
He became an avid student of the soil. Soil test after soil test, May learned where the imbalances and deficiencies were in his garden. “If you don’t check, your soil will run out of gas, just like your car,” he cautions aspiring pumpkin growers. Making sure that the calcium, boron, phosphate and potash levels in his soil were balanced, May’s pumpkins continued to grow, as did the rest of his vegetable garden, “If your soil is balanced, you can grow anything.” For specialized soil analysis for pumpkin growing, May recommends Western Laboratories in Parma, ID.
It was during this learning and growing period that May started his relationship with Murdoch’s. As he learned the deficiencies in his soil, he went to his local Murdoch’s and found the staff particularly helpful, working with him one on one. “I’ve been a fan of Murdoch’s for some time. It’s close to me, makes my supplies available and at a reasonable price,” May said.
May’s years of hard work paid off in September 2011 when he broke the Montana state record by 111 pounds, producing an 893-pound pumpkin. As the Missoulian reported September 30, 2011, “Emmett May doesn’t just believe in the great pumpkin. He grew it.” True to form, he didn’t rest on his laurels. He set a goal of 1,000 pounds.
The following September, May attained his goal, producing a 1,030-pound pumpkin.
While he is a devoted student of the soil, he is also a teacher and coach of aspiring pumpkin growers, as well as a part of the international pumpkin-growers community. May recommends the website bigpumpkins.com, the cyber gathering space for pumpkin-growers around the globe. There, aspiring growers can ask questions and learn more about those who grow “extremely large pumpkins and squash.”
Bigpumpkins.com and other such venues are likewise a marketplace for seeds. As May described it, avid pumpkin growers trace the lineage of record-breaking pumpkins the way horse and cattle breeders map the lineage of livestock. Prize-winning pumpkin seeds command premium prices. In 2010, a seed from Wisconsin pumpkin grower Chris Stevens commanded a whopping $1,600. That’s right. One seed.
Despite prices like these, the all-about-the-orange pumpkin growers aren’t seeing green. They are a community-focused group, devoted to helping one another. The proceeds from such auctions, as well as the seeds themselves, are most often donated to pumpkin growing organizations. May himself is a member of the Big Sky Giant Pumpkin Growers (bigskypumpkingrowers.com). He has mentored pumpkin enthusiasts, and is willing to donate seeds to aspiring growers.
As for his own aspirations, May has his sights set on a 1,500-pound pumpkin. Montana’s pumpkin champ says he’s “not there yet,” but he did say the pumpkin he weighed at Murdoch’s on October 3 is his “biggest yet.”
This humble pumpkin grower is modest about his standing, despite the record-breaking pumpkins he’s grown. The world-record for massive pumpkins, May reminded me, is held by Swiss grower Beni Meier. Last year, Meier produced a behemoth 2,323.7 pounder. Yes, Charlie Brown, the Great Pumpkin does exist!