WINDSOR — Come growing and then showing season, Yvette Berard loses her husband, Al, to his growing obsession.
It’s not drink, drugs, or women the Sanford man obsesses over day after day, for hours at a time, rain or shine.
It’s giant pumpkins which can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and, to a lesser extent, their close relative squash.
“You always know where they are, out in the fields, sunrise to sunset. At least it keeps them out of trouble,” Yvette Berard said of her husband and his pumpkin-growing cronies who assembled around the Windsor Fair scales this morning for weigh-in. “It’s an obsession. He’s retired. But this is a full-time job.”
The Berard’s full-size Chevrolet pickup truck squatted low on its rear wheels until relieved of the weight of two massive gourds by a tractor which lifted them out one at a time, a squash weighing in at 525 pounds and a pumpkin tipping the scales at 818 pounds.
Both were well shy of this year’s biggest fruit, Edwin Pierpont’s 962-pound pumpkin. But Pierpont said even that pumpkin wasn’t a record-breaker for the Windsor Fair or state. He should know — the Jefferson man is the state record-holder, with a 1,471-pound pumpkin he grew in 2010.
Both pumpkin growers said the weather has been challenging for growing great gourds: inconsistent and, earlier this summer, rainy.
“The last three weeks were pretty good, but it hasn’t been a great year for pumpkins,” Pierpont said. “They require different things at different times. When they’re putting out leaves, you don’t want it to get above 80 degrees. It’ll burn the plant. But once you get the fruit set, the hotter the better.”
But too much rain can damage the plant or, conversely, make a pumpkin grow so fast it bursts open.
Pierpont said his pumpkin was pretty good size for this time of year. He said many growers have pumpkins that are still growing in their fields for presentation at later giant pumpkin events. He confessed to having a couple of pumpkins still growing at home that he thinks will be bigger.
Asked later if he also had larger pumpkins still growing, Berard said he couldn’t say.
“Most guys won’t tell you much about what they’ve got growing,” he said, smiling.
The giant pumpkin and squash contest was a featured event on the first day of the 125th annual fair which Tom Foster, president of the fair association, anticipates will bring about 100,000 people to Windsor during its run through Labor Day.
For fans of less absurdly oversized plants, the gladiolus show filled the exhibition hall with countless examples of the elegant, slender flower.
Joyce Mosher, of Mosher’s Glads on the Liberty-Palermo line, her daughter-in-law Vicki Mosher and others busily sorted the gladiolus into the proper categories and put them on display this morning for judging later. At the end of the day, after the judging, the flowers are auctioned off to make room for the next day’s exhibition.
Activity built steadily at the fair as the grounds came to life and more attendees came through the gates today, which fair organizers call “Get Acquainted Day.”
Vendors hawking everything from snowmobiles and tractors to pull tabs and barbecue grills sought customers, as did crews staffing food booths with all manner of hand-held treats and meals.
Monday is Woodsmen’s Day at the fair, with lumberjack friendly field events starting at 9:30 a.m. The midway opens at 1 p.m., with harness racing post time at 3 p.m. Other Monday events include show steer and oxen twitching and four-wheel-drive pickup pulling.
More information about the fair is available online at www.windsorfair.com, and about pumpkins at the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization website at www.mainepumpkins.com.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647