Look out Charlie Brown — this year it’s not the Great Pumpkin, but a giant squash that’s taking center stage at Philip and Patricia Wellington’s rural Cole Camp garden.
The Wellingtons specialize in growing ginormous, prize-winning vegetables at their farm, Gardendogs by Design, located on the Benton/Pettis County line.
The couple had just returned from Republic Daze in Republic with a truck load of prize-winning vegetables Saturday. They were participating in U.S. Bank’s Sedalia-Pettis County United Way Festival with a display of their ribboned produce.
“It’s held every year with 12 to 13,000 people attending,” Philip said of Republic Daze. “In 2013, my wife and I won first and second place in largest pumpkin, and first and second place in largest squash, and first and second place in largest cantaloupe.”
This year the couple grew long gourds and received first and second place in that category. They also received first and third place in squash, and first in cantaloupe and took second and third in the tomato category.
Their blue ribbon, 308-pound Atlantic Squash, sitting in the back of their truck, looked somewhat like a light-green pumpkin gigantor. It was cause for young children to wander up to have their photo taken with the fall vegetable.
The Wellingtons were able to get the giant squash into the bed of the truck by using a pumpkin lift. Straps and ropes plus a ring allowed a forklift to raise it up and lower it into the truck for transport.
“In years past, we’ve actually had to take and place a piece of plywood and just push it up,” Philip said. “Which was really tough to do. I’ve had four guys out there helping me push it up the ramp.”
He added that they receive a lot of attention as they drive down the road or stop at a gas station with their winning produce.
“We’ve stopped at gas stations and people are coming over (saying) ‘can I have a picture, can I have a picture?’” he said. “Going down the road people are beeping their horn (saying) ‘hey neat! neat pumpkin!’”
Philip said the couple’s success in growing large produce is because of several factors including a spurt of vegetable tenacity.
“The only way to get this done is to just keep planting,” he said. “No matter what Mother Nature throws at you, you just keep going. There are people who grow bigger vegetables, but I just keep on trying, and trying and trying. Because of that I have succeeded in years when others don’t.”
The couple has been growing large vegetables since 2005 and uses seeds that are specific to growing giant vegetables.
“There are certain seeds that are required,” he noted. “They are the Atlantic Giant pumpkin, the Atlantic Giant squash, Big Zac if you want to grow a large tomato and Carolina Cross if you want to grow a large watermelon.
“You have to have the right seed in the first place,” he added. “Then you have to have the right soil.”
Soil needs the right combination of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to grow and support jumbo vegetables.
“It also has to have all the micro-nutrients, so I work really hard to make sure I put all of that in there,” he said.
To get all of those prize-winning vegetables growing, the couple puts close to 20 tons of fertilizer and 20 tons of compost on their garden each year.
“So I keep building up my garden,” he said.
The Wellingtons have three gardens.
“I have a 40-by-80(-foot), I have a 60-by-90 and I have a 30-by-100,” he added. “Plus I have a lot of greenhouses.”
Giant vegetables need giant care. Wellington begins the plants in No. 5 pots then places them in the soil when the ground temperature reaches 70 degrees. He and his wife even move the vines as they grow.
“The average grower will put in two to four hours a day in the garden,” he said. “Two would be a minimum. If you are retired it’s fine.”
They primarily grow pumpkins but also grow squash, long gourds, cantaloupe, watermelon and tomatoes.
“This year was a terrible year for tomatoes,” Philip said. “We had so much rain and so much disease caused by the rain …”
“That’s why my .97-pound tomato took second place, because it was a bad year,” Patricia added.
Next year they have some “big” plans.
“We are growing giant tomatoes and I will have over 40 seeds from plants that grew over five to eight pounds,” Philip added. “My largest tomato last year was 3.53 pounds, and I had a second that was 3.25 pounds. Last year I won lots of awards for my tomatoes.”
They both enjoy growing ginormous produce.
“It’s so much fun, because people around here don’t normally see something this big,” he said referring to their blue ribbon giant squash. “I offer to give away stuff, I give away tomatoes, I give away pumpkins … every year I hand out cards and I say ‘hey this fall why don’t you come out and pick out a pumpkin.’”
He allows children to come out to the farm during late summer, scratch their name on a pumpkin and then come back in the fall and harvest it.
“I like to make kids happy,” he added. “I like to make parents happy.”
For more information, call the Wellingtons at 668-2420 or 221-8680 or email them at [email protected]
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 [email protected]