The $1,600 pumpkin seed – MarketWatch

The pitch:

Talk about the great pumpkin. In recent years, America has become obsessed with plus-sized pumpkins, as in the 1,500 pound-and-up behemoths that backyard mad scientists (er, farmers) grow as part of the competitive pumpkin circuit (yes, there’s such a thing). And the pumpkins keep getting bigger and bigger: In 2012, Ron Wallace, a Rhode Island grower, became the first to pass the 2,000-pound mark — he won a first prize of $15,500 at a Massachusetts contest with his 2,009-pound squash. (By contrast, in 1984, the top pumpkin in the same contest weighed a mere 433 pounds.) But that record has already fallen: Just a few weeks ago, Tim Mathison, a California grower, showcased a 2,032-pounder at a contest in his home estate (the prize, including a bonus for breaking the record, is expected to tally $30,000).

Big Spender: The $1,600 pumpkin seed

Still, it all begins with the seed. And competitive growers are known to pay a premium for the best exemplars — typically, seeds from (you guessed it) prize-winning pumpkins. Which is how and why a buyer paid $1,600 for one such specimen at a 2010 auction — it came from an 1,810-pound pumpkin (then the world’s record) grown by Chris Stevens, a Wisconsin pumpkin enthusiast. As is typically the case, Stevens didn’t pocket the money himself — seeds are usually given to pumpkin-growing clubs and associations (yes, they exist as well), who conduct the auctions so that they can fund their operations and offer those increasingly sizable prizes at contests. A general contractor by day, Stevens says the value was partly because the pumpkin yielded so few seeds — just 26. “And everyone thought they could grow” another prize-winner with them, he adds.

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The reality:

Want to set a new pumpkin record? The pros will be the first to point out that you don’t need to spend four figures on a single seed.

In fact, you don’t need to spend anything: Many champion growers will offer their seeds for free (and you can often connect with them on, a popular site for growers). As pros explain, that’s because a) the hobby is such that there’s quite the sense of fraternity connected to it; and b) if the seeds prove worthy, it only enhances a grower’s reputation. But even if you can’t make the connections, clubs and association often have seeds for sale — some will still go for as much as a few hundred dollars apiece at auction, but others will go for as little as a few dollars. Another source: Dill’s Atlantic Giant, the Canadian seed company that pioneered the giant pumpkin variety that’s become the competitive de facto standard and that sells seeds for under a $1 up to $40 apiece. (All competitive growers embrace the Dill variety, but just like no two people are alike genetically, no two seeds are alike — hence, the range in prices at retail and auction.)

Just as important, say experts: a seed from a prize-winning pumpkin is no guarantee of success. Growing giant pumpkins is part art, part science and part luck (and part expensive hobby — plant food and supplies can add hundreds to the cost per pumpkin). Champion growers will talk about specialty composts they use, but they will also concede that weather can play a key role (as in too little sun equals smaller pumpkins). And just when a pumpkin seems record-worthy, it can crack, making it ineligible for competition. Chris Stevens also says he nearly lost a pumpkin this year to a ravenous bear.

Halloween Has gone to the dogs … and cats

Hence, this warning from Diana MacDonald, who helps run Dill’s Atlantic Giant: “You can’t put the seed in the ground, walk away and expect to see a 2,000-pound pumpkin weeks later.” In other words, it takes a dedicated farmer to grow a great pumpkin.

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Of course, if you’re more interested in eating pumpkin seeds than in growing pumpkins from them, that’s a different matter. David, the most popular pumpkin-seed snack brand, offers packages of roasted and salted seeds in various sizes (a five-ounce bag goes for $2.50 at Apparently, edible seeds are becoming a big deal, too: David says it sells more than 1 billion seeds a year (if you laid them from end to end, it would equal two round-trips from Boston to San Diego); the company is also planning its first foray into flavored pumpkin seeds — a ranch variety — starting next year.

ALSO SEE: 10 pumpkin products you can probably live without

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