A pumpkin named Michael Jordan weighs 2,749 pounds, beats world record

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Travis Gienger has been growing enormous pumpkins for nearly 30 years. He grows them so large, they weigh as much as a small car.

In 2020, he grew one he named Tiger King, which weighed in at 2,350 pounds. Last year, Maverick was 2,560 pounds.

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This year, Gienger set his sights on topping his previous pumpkins. He lovingly tended to Michael Jordan, and watered the gourd a dozen times a day - with one goal in mind: the 50th Annual World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.

Each year he and dozens of other gourd growers haul their overgrown winter squash to Half Moon Bay, Calif., the self-proclaimed "World Pumpkin Capital."

Contenders transport their pumpkins, sometimes across the country, to have them carefully measured, weighed and inspected by a panel of judges. Gienger drove for 35 hours from his home in Anoka, Minn., with his pumpkin in a trailer secured to the back of his truck.

"It hardly fit in," said Gienger, 43, a horticulture teacher at Anoka Technical College.

His effort paid off on Monday, when 6-month-old Michael Jordan weighed in at a whopping 2,749 pounds, smashing the competition, and also breaking the world record for the heaviest pumpkin.

"I really wasn't expecting it," Gienger said, despite winning the competition in previous years for Tiger King and Maverick.

When selecting names, he gives his gourds a moniker that represents the year they were grown. Gienger named his 2023 gourd Michael Jordan - after the basketball star's jersey number, 23.

One pumpkin grower from Spain flew to California this year to see Michael Jordan in the flesh.

"It's a really cool, niche group," said Gienger, explaining that many growers at the annual competition have become friends. "It's a worldwide field."

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival draws thousands of visitors every fall for pumpkin-themed activities - one of which is the weigh-off. The coastal city is known for its vast pumpkin patches, making it an ideal spot for the two-day festival this weekend.

Gienger's excitement over Michael Jordan is captured in a video as the pumpkin - which was weighed on a giant scale - broke the world record. Hundreds of people in the crowd cheered loudly. The last time someone broke the world record at the Half Moon Bay event was in 1984.

In addition to bragging rights, Gienger won a $30,000 prize for Michael Jordan, some of which he will use to "reinvest in the hobby" he said, adding that he plans to put away the rest for his 2-year-old daughter Lily's college fund.

The competition was covered by both local and international news outlets, including KSTP-TV and the Guardian.

Gienger learned much of what he knows about pumpkins from his father, who was also a passionate pumpkin grower. Gienger starts planting seeds in his backyard pumpkin patch in mid-April, and he harvests in early October.

Supersized gourds grow from special seeds that are intended to produce giant pumpkins. People in the pumpkin-growing community often swap and share seeds.

"There's really great camaraderie between all the pumpkin growers," said Ronan Fowler, an event organizer. He said this year's contest drew 35 contenders, some of whom traveled from Washington State, Oregon, Kansas and British Columbia.

There are pumpkin "weigh off" contests around the globe, including in other parts of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Beyond using specific seeds, the secret to growing gigantic gourds is "just labor and love, as far as taking care of the plant, watering, fertilizing, pruning, weeding," Gienger said, noting that his wife and neighbor help him with the effort.

Even though he has been growing pumpkins for decades, Gienger is always stunned by the gourds' rapid rate of growth.

During the peak growth period, "they can grow up to 70 pounds a day," he said.

This morning, Guinness World Records gave Gienger the official title of the heaviest pumpkin, and updated its site. The previous Guinness World Record holder for the heaviest pumpkin is Stefano Cutrupi, an Italian man who harvested a 2,702-pound pumpkin in Tuscany in 2021.

Gienger also shares the world record for the largest jack-'o-lantern by circumference, a title he claimed last October for a pumpkin carved to look like an eagle. It had a circumference of 242 inches.

The enormous orange Michael Jordan pumpkin will be on display during the festival so that visitors can pat it and pose with it. The three runner-up pumpkins will also be showcased.

"When you see a pumpkin of that size, it is pretty mind-blowing," Fowler said.

Following the festival, the pumpkin will "not be turned into pumpkin pie," said Gienger, explaining that it will be used in upcoming Halloween events. "It'll go on to be something very impressive."

In the meantime, Gienger is basking in the glory of Michael Jordan. He wants next year's pumpkin to be even bigger.

"It just puts smiles on people's faces," he said.

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