Giant Squash: you have to be “perfect” to win Royal Winter Fair competition

by Kimberlee Nancekivell

11/18/09

A giant squash may have you nervously remembering that recurring nightmare where your vegetables have you for dinner, but for John Vincent of Picton, Ont. it means fame and maybe a few extra dollars in his pocket.

Listen to the interview with John Vincent here.

Vincent’s squash was on display at this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, greeting giant vegetable farmer hopefuls at the Ontario Toyota Dealers My Giant Vegetable Challenge booth.

Weighing in at 556 kilograms, the squash was grown on Vincent’s small country lot in Picton with the help of his neighbour, Brian McGill. Vincent, a crop advisor for 25 years, says McGill is who got him into the larger-than-life hobby in the first place.

“We moved around a fair bit with my job before and when we moved here my next door neighbour was growing giant pumpkins,” Vincent said in a telephone interview Monday. “He wasn’t having very much luck and I said ‘Well, we can do better than that.’”

And do better they did.

The mammoth squash made its debut at the Cornerstone Yard weigh-off in Barrie alongside Vincent’s 559-kilogram pumpkin, the largest in Prince Edward Country. Beating the previous weight of 555 kilograms, Vincent’s squash set a new world record.

“Every seed selection, you know, I’m hoping that’s the one that’s going to take me to a world record in that particular category,” Vincent said.

Though Vincent’s squash was only at the Royal Winter Fair for show, his giant pumpkin won first place in its category. Great Pumpkin Commonwealth rules state that a vegetable can only be weighed at one official weigh-off, but any unofficial weigh-offs are fair game. Ontario’s official sites are Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch Weigh-off in Pembroke, Port Elgin Pumpkinfest, Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest, and Cornerstone Yard in Barrie.

Vincent’s other Royal Winter Fair wins were third largest cabbage by weight, second largest corn stalk by height, longest gourd, largest sunflower stalk by height, largest watermelon by weight, and largest miscellaneous giant vegetable or fruit by weight.

For those looking to be the next great giant grower Vincent shared all his growing secrets, which is something he doesn’t normally do with newcomers for fear that the amount of work will scare them away.

“The basics of good gardening are the same for everything, but giant vegetables you have to take it to the next level,” he said. “You can do three-quarters of a job in regular vegetables and still have a hell of a crop, but with giant vegetables, if you want to be competitive, everything has to be perfect.”

Reaching this level of perfection is what has pushed Vincent to stop growing regular crops, grow double the amount of giants as most growers so he can breed his seeds faster to produce larger pumpkins, and even turn to prehistoric fungi to increase his giants’ water and nutrient absorption.

“What you get out is exponential to what you put in. You don’t do anything, you won’t  get anything out,” he said. “The more you put in, the more you get out.”

For every rule there is an exception, however, and in this case that exception’s name is Joanne Borcsok. Borcsok, of Kettleby, Ont., was premier exhibitor of this year’s Royal Winter Fair competition placing in the top four of 14 of the 22 categories, and she says to grow giant vegetables all you need is a lot of space, water, and fertilizer. Her simplistic approach should not be taken as a lack of dedication to the hobby, though.

“I live for the fair,” said Borcsok, continuing on to tell the story of how she fell seriously ill two weeks before the fair and was admitted to the hospital more than once.

“I told doctors I’ve got to be out of here for the fair, and guess what?  I got out!” she said.

The giant vegetable growing season has pretty well come to a close now, the Royal Winter Fair being so late in the season that some growers don’t participate, but you can bet that come next spring these top growers will be back in the fields- in sickness and in health- growing the world’s next big thing. Literally!

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