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At giant pumpkin contest, tons of excitement

Rose Landry patted the pumpkin that her longtime partner, Al Boudreau, entered in the contest. It weighed 1,470 pounds, good for second place. Rose Landry patted the pumpkin that her longtime partner, Al Boudreau, entered in the contest. It weighed 1,470 pounds, good for second place. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Sean Teehan
Globe Correspondent / October 2, 2010

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TOPSFIELD — Bill Northrup and his wife spent about a day and a half negotiating with Canadian and US customs workers to bring their pumpkin across the border.

On Wednesday the New Brunswick residents received the OK to bring the well-over-500-pound piece of fruit into the United States, on time for the New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Topsfield Fair yesterday.

“This, of course, is the flagship of the Eastern Seaboard weigh-offs,’’ said Northrup, who transported his pumpkin in his brother’s half-ton truck.

The weigh-off usually takes place Saturday, said Mary Ann Hoomis, codirector of the weigh-off. The switch to Friday night is a relief to the competitors since, this year, they don’t have to hurry out of the arena to make way for the Canadian Mounties, who appear at the fair every year.

“This is an elite weigh-off,’’ said Hoomis, who has grown giant pumpkins with her husband, Bill, for 16 years.

According to Bill Hoomis, pumpkins at the fair this year had to be between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds for a shot in the top five. The fruit had to weigh in at at least 500 pounds to be in the competition, and 56 such pumpkins made the cut last night.

“You’ve got to spend at least two or three hours every day to really grow this big,’’ said Sue Chadwick, 66, of Greenfield.

This year’s winner topped 1,500 pounds. Steve Connolly’s pumpkin came in at 1,674 1/2 pounds. He also won the event in 2000.

On winning a second time, Connolly, of Sharon, said, “It’s really cool, I mean this is the fourth biggest pumpkin in the world right now.’’

Growers spend hours burying vines, trimming plants that may siphon off nutrients, and keeping animals away from the giant fruit, Chadwick said.

A big part of the competition is the glory winners received among their peers, according to Chadwick. “It’s bragging rights,’’ she said.

Several people at the event have enjoyed the ultimate boasting rights. The weigh-off hosted a world record holder in 2002. In 2007, a grower set the a world record, only to be outdone by another about 20 minutes later.

The world record is held by Christy Harp, of Ohio, who grew a 1,725-pound pumpkin, Hoomis said. Connolly’s winning pumpkin last night was grown from a seed from Harp’s record winner.

Al Boudreau, of Rindge, N.H., wasn’t expecting his pumpkin to set a world record before its weigh-in yesterday, but he did capture second place at 1,470 pounds.

Dressed in a orange shirt with a rhinestone pumpkin, an orange jacket and hat, and jack-o’-lantern earrings, Rose Landry, Boudreau’s longtime partner, held her head high as she showed Al’s picture with his pumpkin featured on the front page of Thursday’s Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Boudreau spent about six hours with the pumpkin every day, covering it with blankets to keep it warm, using umbrellas to keep rain off of it, and playing the radio to keep animals away, according to Landry.

“He said if he couldn’t scratch the soil, he wouldn’t be a happy man,’’ she said.

Among pumpkins in excess of 1,000 pounds yesterday sat one giant draped with a felt flag with a man’s picture on it reading, “In memory of Jeffrey Brooks.’’

“He started this year’s pumpkin patch, he died in July, so I just decided to keep it going,’’ said Mary Brooks, of Greenfield, N.H., Jeffrey’s wife of 14 years. She wore her late husband’s T-shirt with the message, “My life is great pumpkins, everything else is just details.’’

Brooks said her husband, who entered pumpkins in about six of the Topsfield weigh-offs, didn’t enter one last year after his pumpkin grew improperly because of poor weather.

“But this year, [the weather] has been perfect,’’ Brooks said.

Sean Teehan can be reached at steehan@globe.com.

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