A vegetable grown outside Willem le Grange’s Mossel Bay home has become a record-breaker after weighing in at a massive 867.5kg.
Le Grange won the first prize of R175,500 and an additional R50,000 for breaking the SA record at the Giant Pumpkin Festival.
However, SA’s biggest ever recorded pumpkin nearly didn’t make it to receive the honour when animal-related drama struck.
“A month before the weigh in there was a porcupine,” Le Grange said.
“It came into my patch and bit my pumpkin twice. I was scared it was going to rot, but I disinfected it and it healed quickly. If I had not given it attention, it would have rotted.”
The festival took place on March 26 and 27 in Heidelberg in the Western Cape. It was the 12th year the event was held but due to Covid-19, only 250 people were allowed to attend each day.
“I will have to open a pumpkin account and keep the money and spend it on pumpkins,” Le Grange laughed.
“It’s a great feeling but so much can happen through a season. Every year is a great season but not every year is pumpkin season. So much can happen and your pumpkin can rot or break open, but with good seed, good soil and good luck you can grow a good pumpkin.
“I grew five plants andwas lucky to harvest all five, which is not how it usually works through the season because you lose a few pumpkins. If you add them together they come to a total of 30,050kg,” Le Grange said.
Jo Ann Kretzen, a festival organiser, said 15 growers participated in the weigh in.
Le Grange said he will harvest the seeds of the two biggest pumpkins on Wednesday night in Heidelberg.
“One pumpkin has become livestock food while two are at Laërskool Hartenbos for fundraising and to make children more aware there are bigger things in life than your average pumpkin in the kitchen,” he said.
The 33-year-old said the pumpkin, which took 170 days to grow, was named “Tornado” after a rat poison because he had an encounter with mice while growing the veggies.
“There were a lot of mice and they eat your pumpkins. I bought a pack of mouse poison and that was the name of the product. One Sunday I was sitting next to the pumpkin and couldn’t decide on a name and then I saw it on the box.”
Born and raised in Burgersfort, Limpopo, Le Grange moved to the Western Cape four-and-a-half years ago. He is a farm manager at Ruiterbosch Agri outside Mossel Bay.
He said he first saw big pumpkins next to a road in Heidelberg where they had been placed after the festival and developed an interest.
“ I j started finding out more about pumpkins and where to get seeds and did my own research. This is my second season growing pumpkins. In 2018 I grew a pumpkin that weighed 435kg. This was my second time and it was a little bigger.
“ I learnt a lot from the mistakes I made this season. You are never too old to learn.”
Le Grange’s advice for pumpkin growers is that “your footprints are the best fertiliser”.
“You have to give it a lot of attention and love. You can’t just put the seed in the soil and think there is going to be something at the end of the season. You must give it a lot of attention,” he said.
Big pumpkins are clearly a family affair. His father, Casper le Grange, took second place at the festival.
Kretzen said the first three winning pumpkins are cut up very soon after the weigh in so the seeds can be harvested and dried to be handed out in September to growers.
“The ‘meat’ of the pumpkins is donated to a local feeding scheme. If possible, we display some of the pumpkins around town,” she said.
One of the rules is that the winning pumpkins must be edible.
Kretzen said the festival was for the community, for entertainment and for raising funds.
“We can only do this with the support of our sponsors,” she said.