~ Local resident has eyes on a state championship ~
Hundreds of Craig County residents know the joy of how it feels when their hard work and laboring hours in a garden bring beautiful fruits and vegetables.
Jonathan Huffman seems to have the “green thumb” to prove it as he posts pictures of some of his prize pumpkins on Facebook.
“I grew up gardening with my grandparents,” he said. “I can’t remember a single year my grandfather didn’t have a garden.”
Huffman was raised by his grandparents, who are both deceased. He and his brother were around the ages of four and five when “we were put to work in the gardens.”
Now 40, Huffman is applying his knowledge of a previous work, which has now become a beloved passion.
Currently, Huffman has over 6,000 square feet of his garden planted in vegetables as he enjoys a wide variety, including: tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant, corn, potatoes, cabbage, cushaw squash, green beans, onions, cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Among the peppers are banana peppers, jalapeños, habaneros and scotch bonnets, and pumpkins – Atlantic Giant, Big Maxx and Jack-O-Lanterns.
He added, “Growing up gardening was a means of providing for ourselves, and over time I discovered it was something I was decent at.”
“It is always a challenge to try to get everything to grow and produce,” Huffman noted, but he orders his seeds and supplies to grow his pumpkins from Joel Holland in Sumner Washington.
He is one of the top growers in the country and has been competitive growing since the early 70s. He has held numerous state, national and even a world championship with a pumpkin over 2,300 pounds.
Shared Huffman, “I am as close to an expert in the field of giant pumpkins as anyone and have accumulated some of the top genetic lines of giant pumpkins ever grown. I’m sure I will present some monsters this year as well.”
Huffman, who is the Chief of the John Creek Volunteer Department, relates to Holland who is a retired firefighter and classic car enthusiast.
“Holland has helped me a great deal in learning how to get into growing these giant pumpkins and hopefully with his proven seeds, expert advice, plenty of manure and a touch of luck, I may get a shot at the Virginia state record in the near future,” he added.
Huffman also shared that he “loves gardening altogether,” but growing pumpkins is his absolute favorite.
“The challenge of getting them to grow bigger is definitely an addiction and the science to doing so is very interesting,” he said. “I have learned there is a lot of work and science that goes into growing them. My biggest obstacle this year was getting past a very late start.”
Huffman has done well at growing other vegetables. In past years, he has grown relatively large cabbage and tomatoes.
“I have had exceptional yields on different stuff but have never really weighed or documented anything,” he explained. “I have grown pumpkins that wouldn’t fit in a wheelbarrow in the past, but they fail to compare to the ones I have this year.”
This year Huffman went into detail about his big pumpkin on Facebook. “I haven’t thrown these up on here, but since they are growing fairly well, I figured why not. This is my top grower right now, it measured out to 173 pounds. Its progress is well under where it should be with an average of nine gain per day. I got an extremely late start from a competitive standpoint this year by not getting plants in the ground until early June with some going in weeks later,” he said.
Since that post a couple of weeks ago, his new “prize” pumpkin, which he calls Shade 1, had to be pulled due to it stalling and showing vine issues. He tried to weigh it on the bathroom scale, but balancing was an issue.
“It showed 201 pounds,” he said. “But we currently have three more that are larger than that one and still growing.”
“They have a wide variance in daily gains, between nine and 26 pounds,” Huffman explained. “I have not been able to get their gains up to 30 to 60-pound gains per day that most competitive growers target. However, with the rain Monday, they will likely gain pretty well over the next few days.”
As of August 30, they weighed 258, 310 and 391 pounds, respectively. Two days later, the SB1 weighs 439 pounds, MG1 – 340 pounds and Jessica’s Blob Pumpkin is 307 pounds. On September 4, they had grown to SB1 – 464, MG1 – 352 and the Blob is 323.
His SB1 gained 25 pounds and the Blob gained 26 pounds in less than 24 hours.
“The SB1 pumpkin, which is currently my largest, is eight weeks old, the MG1 is seven weeks and Jessica’s Blob pumpkin is only five weeks,” Huffman noted. “I am probably going to start feeding daily now so I can keep them gaining until frost.”
Thus far, Huffman has never entered any competitions, “other than competing with my grandad to see whose garden did better.”
Currently, his goal is to grow giant pumpkins and shoot for the state competition.
“It’s ambitious to say the least,” Huffman said. “Being beginners in the field of giant pumpkins and having a two plus month late start, we aren’t doing terrible.”
The state record, which stands at 1,340.7 pounds was set by Hank Houston, of Spotsylvania County, in 2015. The world record stands at 2,624.6 grown by a grower in Belgium in 2016.
His hopes are that Craig County re-establishes the Craig County Fair next year, even if it just starts with a few competitions, food and music. But he will continue to grow his giant pumpkins regardless.
Huffman understands the fact that dreams without added labor only remain dreams, as he sets his sights on winning that state record.
“I feel that goal would be a massive lifetime achievement, but is possible,” he shared. “I plan to commit most of my gardening space and time toward that next year starting with getting a far earlier start.”