Go Big or Go(urd) Home: Giant Pumpkin Growers Compete for Wisconsin’s Top Prize

By Salina Heller
September 21, 2023

Every year, growers from across the state enter their colossal pumpkins in Altoona’s Ginormous Pumpkin Festival, hoping to have grown the heaviest.

Fond du Lac’s Tom Montsma took home the top prize and set the state record at last year’s Altoona Ginormous Pumpkin Fest.

So, what did his giant gourd weigh? A whopping 2,046 pounds!

What’s the Secret?

Growers across the world tinker with various strategies in the hopes of answering that very question. Jim Suchanek of Black River Falls is among the growers continually striving to grow bigger and bigger pumpkins.

Growing these is definitely my happy place,” Suchanek told us. “That is, until something bad happens to a pumpkin, and it cracks open or rots!”

Suchanek believes the secret to a massive harvest lies within the seed. A half ton pumpkin has superior genetics. Growers trade and sell seeds from their giant fruits.

How Do Giant Pumpkins Grow?

Just like their regular size counterparts, potential prize winners take between 100 and 120 days to grow. What’s not remotely similar is the rate at which they expand.

“These pumpkins put on 50 to 60 pounds per day when they are growing at their peak,” Suchanek explained. “You want to keep those numbers going as long as you can without blowing the pumpkin up.”

Pumpkin growers treat their gourds like family: keeping them at the perfect temperature, giving them continuous food and water, protecting their delicate skin from drying and cracking, and covering them at night for warmth.

Suchanek, whose personal best is 1,908.5 pounds, suggests there’s another key ingredient: luck.

What’s the Draw?

For Suchanek, who takes his massive pumpkin to weigh-offs in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, growing is a fun hobby, as well as a potential financial bonus. Altoon’s top grower wins $5,555.

Most growers are members of the social organization Wisconsin Giant Pumpkin Growers, a non-profit committed to teaching and sharing information about growing giant fruits and vegetables.

There are a few weigh-ins in the state. One is at the Altoona Ginormous Pumpkin Festival, where the top prize is $5,555 as a nod to the festival being in its fifth year. Photo courtesy Jim Suchanek

“More people are getting involved in growing,” Suchanek said. “Many experienced farmers give seeds away to get new growers started. The community is amazing!”

If You Go 

Altoona’s Ginormous Pumpkin Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 23 at River Prairie Park. In addition to the weigh-off, the festival concludes with some fanfare for the kids: a giant pumpkin, filled with candy, hoisted into the air and dropped to the ground! Check out the full schedule here.


  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.

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