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VIDEO: Steam Mill giant vegetable growers work to overcome Mother Nature’s challenges


Father and son growers preparing for Waterville, Windsor weigh-offs

STEAM MILL VILLAGE, N.S. —

Although Mother Nature has thrown lots of stumbling blocks in their paths this year, father and son giant vegetable growers from Steam Mill are facing the challenges head-on.

Gerard Ansems, an award-winning and record-setting giant vegetable grower, said the current season has been a bit rough for growers in Kings County but they’re getting by.

June, which was rather cold and rainy with little sunshine, wasn’t conducive to a good start to the growing season. There have been other weather-related challenges, including a dry spell through July and August. The nights have been getting colder into September and there was a frost overnight from Sept. 18 to 19.

“I had some water sprinklers set up last night to keep the frost off the pumpkin patch and save the leaves on them,” Ansems said.

Some of the leaves did incur frost damage but by saving what he could, he hopes his pumpkins will continue to gain weight over the next week or two.

Overall, given the circumstances, Ansems said that he’s getting some pretty good size pumpkins. The 79-year-old has two that are destined for the Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers (AVGVG) weigh-off at Glad Gardens in Waterville on Sept. 27 and 28: one for him and one for his wife, Catharina. He has two more going to the weigh-off at Dill Farm in Windsor the following weekend.

“I’ve got quite a big one here that’s about 1,500 pounds right now,” Ansems said. “If it stays healthy, I’m going to take that down to the Dill Farm.”

Since the Dill Farm weigh-off is a week later, Ansems hopes that the larger pumpkin will get significantly heavier by waiting longer to harvest it. The pumpkin is gaining 50 to 60 pounds a week now. He said the biggest one he has for the Glad Gardens weigh-off is currently around 1,300 pounds.

Ansems took first place for heaviest pumpkin at the Hants County Exhibition on Sept. 14 with a specimen that tipped the scale at 872 pounds.

Ansems, who also grows long gourds on a trellis structure, fared pretty well through post-tropical storm Dorian because his growing area is fairly sheltered by trees. He has rather sandy soil, which helps with drainage when there are heavy rains. Ansems said heavy rain can be harder on the roots systems for growers without such sandy soil.

Gerard’s son, Fred Ansems, is an award-winning and record-setting giant vegetable grower who lives across the road. He isn’t as sheltered and did incur quite a bit of damage to his pumpkin vines and long gourd trellises from Dorian.

Fred said he surrounded his pumpkin patch with Weavex material before the storm hit to try to protect the vines from the wind. The vines seemed to fare well within a couple of feet of the barrier but “anything in the middle of the patch is just flat.” He said the leaves looked like they might survive but have since died off.

In spite of this year’s challenges, Fred will have pumpkins and squash contending in the two upcoming weigh-offs. He has one pumpkin he hopes will weigh-in around 1,300 pounds, maybe more. He has a couple around 1,000 pounds each and a squash that is perhaps as heavy as 1,200 or 1,300 pounds.

If the squash survives, it has the potential to set a new Atlantic Canadian record. Fred’s dad is the current Atlantic Canadian record holder. In 2017, Gerard grew a squash that weighed 1,183 pounds.

Fred said that although Dorian slowed them down, his giant pumpkins and squash were still gaining about 10 pounds a day. However, that growth rate could be slowed significantly by frost that hit the plants overnight from Sept. 18 to 19.

He went out at 4 a.m. to activate his sprinklers to help protect the leaves but the damage had already been done. He felt some of the leaves, which were ice-covered.

“Even at 4 o’clock, the water hose was just about frozen solid already,” Ansems said. “There was ice on the end of the water hose, I had to let the water run through it to get the ice out before I even started.”

In spite of the challenging conditions, Ansems said Valley growers have produced some big pumpkins this year. He isn’t sure what will be coming to the Glad Gardens weigh-off from New Brunswick or PEI but, among Valley growers, he said the competition should be tight.

He said he was two weeks later than usual getting started this spring because of cool, wet conditions. Although there was a lengthy hot and dry spell during the summer, Ansems had a good water supply and his giant vegetables grew well.

Of Fred’s four long gourd trellises, one toppled during post-tropical storm Erin and two fell during Dorian. Dorian shifted the remaining trellis about a foot. Ansems said two of the downed structures didn’t have much on them but one had a nice long gourd that broke into several pieces when it hit the ground.

Luckily, he has one on the surviving trellis, a long gourd close in length to the one that he set a world record with a few years ago. His record-setting gourd was 139.25 inches long but the record has since been surpassed by about 10 inches.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

GO ONLINE: For more information on the Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers or the upcoming weigh-off at Glad Gardens, which is sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, visit www.avgvg.com or the organization’s Facebook page.

IF YOU GO:

  • The Annapolis Valley Giant Vegetable Growers Competition and Weigh-Off is being held at Glad Gardens, located at 5108 Highway 1 in Waterville.
  • The event takes place on Sept. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. with vegetable pre-judging and on Sept. 28 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with registration, final vegetable judging, the weigh-off and awards and presentations.
  • The competition entry fee is $15 for adults, free for young gardeners under age 16. Prizes will be awarded in 19 categories. The event is free for spectators and includes free children’s games and activities.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • Gerard’s pumpkin that currently weighs about 1,500 pounds is growing in a greenhouse containing just the one pumpkin plant. The plant covers approximately 1,000 square feet.
  • Gerard Ansems had the heaviest bushel gourd in Canada last year and the third heaviest in the world at 335 pounds.
  • Fred Ansem’s world-record long gourd, which measured 139.25 inches, was taken to New York and featured on the TV show Live! With Kelly and Michael.
  • Fred Ansems had the heaviest squash at last year’s Glad Gardens weigh-off with a specimen weighing 986 pounds.
  • At the 2018 Glad Gardens weigh-off, Fred Ansems took second place for heaviest pumpkin at 1,361 pounds while Gerard Ansems took third place with one weighing 1,318 pounds. First place went to Daryl and Maureen Tingley of Fredericton with a pumpkin weighing 1,808, a record for the AVGVG weigh-off.

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