Just in time for fall, a new heavyweight champ of the botanical variety — tipping the scales at more than one ton — has squashed the competition.
A giant green squash broke the world record Saturday at the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Pumpkin Weigh-off at Frerichs Farm in Warren, R.I.
Joe Jutras of Scituate, R.I., grew the 2,118 pound fruit. After the number appeared on the scale, the other growers lifted Jutras onto their shoulders.
Jutras tells NPR, "Oh it was like — my feet weren't on the ground," in more ways than one. The 62-year-old has been growing giant food for two decades and says, "I've been chomping at the bit for this one."
With Saturday's win, Jutras holds the triple crown in gargantuan growing: he won the Guinness World Record in 2006 for the world's longest gourd and again a year later for the world's heaviest pumpkin. (Both records have since been surpassed.) But according to The Associated Press, Jutras is the only person in the world to have won three gigantic food titles.
He is a recently retired cabinet maker who says he brings some of the skills from his former career to his current passion.
"You have to keep your eye on details," Jutras says. "It's the little things you do through the course of a year that make a difference. You can't take any shortcuts."
He began with nearly two dozen plants and put in a "tremendous amount of time and work," Jutras says; work which ironically began with "resting the soil" by not growing anything on it for a year.
In the summer of 2016, Jutras put down mustard, which acts as a natural fumigant, then chicken manure. Finally, he covered the soil with a plastic tarp, allowing the heat to kill weeds and pathogens.
This past spring, Jutras moved the squash plant from a pot into the ground that's as "bacteria-free as you can get." By summer, the plant was growing up to a foot a day, he says, adding that he needed 150 gallons of water and 15 gallons of fertilizer a day to fuel all that growth.
Jutras cut short vacations, over the objections of his wife, carefully draping the fruit with a blanket at night, so it wouldn't catch chill and surrounding it with sand to get an early warning about any unwelcome rodents.
"It's going to the extreme but I guess it paid off," Jutras says.
Next up for the champion fruit: on Wednesday, Jutras is driving it down to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, where it will be carved for a Halloween display.
A few more contests remain before the 2017 season is over, Jutras says, and he hopes there isn't a bigger squash lurking in another a patch somewhere. "I feel 99 percent confident," he says, noting that the community of growers is a close one. "We talk to one another so you know if someone will have something."
Jutras wants to get back the seeds from the Botanical Garden so he can plant them once again. The seeds have been hybridized with a pumpkin, contributing to the fruit's huge size.
Jutras says hybridization is catching on and leading to ever-bigger entries and he wants to remain a part of it.
Although he adds, "I may try to cut back and not kill myself" next year.