The Harvest Festival is now underway at Dollywood, kicking off a tradition that features seasonal food options, live entertainment and larger-than-life seasonal displays, including a handful of rather large pumpkins.
The massive gourds are one of the newest aspects of the fall festival, originally debuting last year, the largest of which weighs more than 1,000 pounds.
While taking in the spectacle at its debut last year, I found my curiosity piqued.
A dozen questions swirled in my head as I stood face to face with a pumpkin large enough to crawl inside and take a nap. How did you get here? Why are you this big? What’s your opinion on pumpkin spice?
Despite my expert interrogation skills, the pumpkin remained silent, so I instead turned to a pumpkin grower, Andy Wolf.
Wolf lives in Little Valley, New York and has been growing giant pumpkins competitively since 1999. He specializes in pumpkins that weigh over 1,000 pounds and has even broken records with his giant creations.
His pumpkins have been on display all over the world, including right here at our little “homegrown” theme park: Dollywood.
Q: How does one get into competitive pumpkin growing?
“When I was young, my parents took me to see a pumpkin competition about an hour from where we lived. It wasn’t until years later that I decided to give it a try and got serious with better seeds and advice from a high school friend who knew how to grow them,” said Wolf.
Q: What’s the secret to growing a massive pumpkin?
“It’s a combination of a lot of things: Hard work, good soil, getting through the summer without any devastating weather events, good seeds and a bit of luck.”
Q: Do all pumpkins have the potential to grow to this size or are these pumpkins special?
“These are a bit special in that they are grown from seeds out of other giant pumpkins. For example, the 1507-lb pumpkin at Dollywood was grown out of a seed from a 2517-lb pumpkin last year,” says Wolf. “It’s not something you get off the rack at the garden center.”
“Most ‘modern genetics’ of giant pumpkins easily have the potential to grow pumpkins over 1,000 pounds in good conditions. However, results may vary. I have had some incredibly ugly ones and some perfect orange pumpkins through the years.”
Q: How many 1000-lb pumpkins are you typically able to produce in a single season?
“Since the pumpkins require a lot of time and hard work, I usually only grow about seven or eight each season. Due to splits, rot, bugs or disease, I lose a couple along the way, so on average I finish with three or four good ones.”
Q: What’s the largest pumpkin you’ve ever grown?
“My heaviest official pumpkin weighed in at 1,971 pounds in 2017. I beat the NY state record by two pounds, but that only held for about a week until my record was topped by one of my friends.”
Q: How did Dollywood reach out to you about your pumpkin being on display at this year’s Harvest Festival?
“Years back, I put up my own website, BuyGiantPumpkins.com, to try to sell a few pumpkins and that’s how they found me.”
Q: How did you transport this 1500-lb pumpkin from New York to Pigeon Forge, Tenn.?
“Carefully,” says Wolf.
“We used a lifter designed specifically for giant pumpkins and put it on a trailer to go to a contest in Kentucky. After Kentucky, we just loaded it on the back of a different pickup truck and it began its journey to East Tennessee. In total, the pumpkin traveled almost 900 miles to reach Dollywood.”
Q: Do you get a lot of funny looks while traveling down the interstate with a trailer full of 1000-lb pumpkins?
“Yeah, really changes the traffic patterns,” Wolf says with a laugh. “People love to take pictures.”
Q: What happens once the pumpkin begins to rot? How does one prevent a messy scene?
“There’s not much you can do to stop the process once it begins. The cooler fall weather helps slow decay, but a mess is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.”
“I have held pumpkins well into December before I finally chopped them up and fed them to the cows,” says Wolf. “And I request all of my seeds back from any pumpkins sold.”
Q: Why is it important that you retrieve the seeds?
“Seeds out of these pumpkins will hopefully grow the next generation of contest winners. In the winter, growers will swap their seeds with each other.”
“Seeds are also used to help raise funds to support the local pumpkin clubs, which support the pumpkin contests and events. I usually give most away for new growers that want to give it a try.”
Q: Do you eat a lot of pumpkin at your house?
“Nope,” says Wolf with a chuckle.
“We never really got into it. The giant pumpkins are practically inedible from what I understand – the water content is so high, they’re pretty bland. I suppose if you throw enough sugar and spices on them, it would be tolerable.”
Q: Are your giant pumpkins for sale?
“Yes. However, for the most part, they are usually all spoken for with the few that I have. When I do get requests, I will pass them off to growers I know who live closer to the buyer. I’ve been growing giants for over 20 years and have made a lot of good friends around the world.”
“The community is small enough that I can usually refer someone to a grower I know fairly close to them and hope they can work something out.”
How many pumpkins are at Dollywood?
Dollywood has nearly 15,000 pumpkins on display in total, according to their website.
Whether they are colossal pumpkins grown by folks from around the east coast, or hand-carved little works of art, each of the thousands of pumpkins has a special place in the Dollywood family.
When you plan your trip to Dollywood, remember to check Tripster for discount tickets.
If you want more information about Wolf and his giant pumpkins, please visit his website.
For more information about Dollywood’s Harvest Festival, please visit www.dollywood.com or download the Dollywood app.
Have you been to Dollywood for the Harvest Festival? Let us know in the comments below.