NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

October 3, 2013

A ton of fun

Topsfield Fair opens this weekend with giant pumpkins, animals, food and entertainment

Interest in the Topsfield Fair’s Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off gets bigger every year, just like the pumpkins in the competition.

Visitors can check out this year’s batch of orange monsters at 1 p.m. tomorrow, when they are lowered onto scales in the arena, kicking off 10 days of agricultural exhibits, contests and activities.

George Hoomis, director of the New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association and chairman of the weigh-off, remembers when people wondered if pumpkins would ever reach 1,000 pounds.

“We figured it would take a few years,” he said.

Last year, Ron Wallace of Greene, R.I., set a world record at 2,009 pounds and won a $10,000 prize for growing the first pumpkin ever to exceed 1 ton, but it took less than a year for his entry to be topped.

“There’s a guy in Europe who grew a 2,360-something-pound pumpkin off the 2009 seed,” Hoomis said.

It didn’t set a new record, however, because it had a hole in it.

“It has to be sound, a sound fruit,” Hoomis said.

Pumpkins keep getting bigger because growers develop new breeds, using seeds from previous winners, and cross-pollinating early each spring. But genetics alone don’t create big pumpkins, which often require determined growers to get them through rough weather.

“I know one year there was so much rain, people’s pumpkins were going down, the plants were dying,” Hoomis said. “One guy dug a hole next to his plant and put a sump pump in it and kept it going. People do what they have to do.”

As the pumpkins get bigger, the fair — now in its 195th year — gets older and continues to draw huge crowds.

One secret to this longevity is the fair’s combination of carefully cultivated traditions mixed with new attractions.

This year, for instance, performers will include Beverly’s Angie Miller, who finished third in the “American Idol” competition this spring. Fans on the North Shore who voted for Miller when she was on television can show their appreciation in person, when she appears in a free concert Tuesday, Oct. 8, in the Grandstand.

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