Severely obese pumpkins, watermelons and squash, accompanied by corn considerably taller than an elephant's eye, will be on parade on the ByWard Market Oct. 2 for the annual Ottawa-St. Lawrence Growers Weigh-Off.
Members of the group specialize in nurturing oversized garden produce to the point - at least in the case of the pumped-up pumpkins - where several strong men and at least one forklift are required to move them around.
Regularly on display at the event are pumpkins teetering in the 1000-pound range and watermelons which, if cut up, would feed several families for a week. The squash are traffic stoppers - literally - and the corn brushes the second storeys of market buildings.
Missing in a prominent position among the regulars this year will be Farmer Gus Saunders of Munster who, over several years, took the weigh-off from a backyard get together to a world class public event. Gus, who's own giant pumpkin growing efforts were never as successful as the masters, decided to pack it in after last year's organizational effort.
The new crop of organizers are anticipating some eye-popping entries this year due to hot, dry, ideal growing conditions throughout the summer.
"This great weather has contributed to numerous growers setting fruit earlier than ever and fruit growth tracking at above average rates," the association says in its recent newsletter.
The missive goes on to caution with foreboding that it takes more than weather to deliver a contender: "We all know so well the perils that await each and every one of us."
That's a reference to the fact that, as many growers can attest, a sure winner can literally burst at the seams within hours of judgement day. Ottawa-St. Lawrence rules specify that each entry must be "sound, healthy and undamaged", free of rot, holes, cracks, serious soft spots and "chemical residue". Are they talking steroids here?
No foreign material such as fungicides and caulking material is permitted in the weighing and the vine must be trimmed to one inch from the stem of the fruit. Like major sporting event organizers, the association isn't messing around. Refusal to allow inspection of an entry will cause it to be deemed "exhibition only".
While giant produce growers do it mainly for the challenge, there is a substantial mercenary side to the Weigh-Off. More than $25,000 in prize money will be handed out right down to the 17th place finisher. There will also be a $1000 bonus for a pumpkin that busts the existing record, with the cash to be carried over to next year if that fails to occur.