East Olympia teacher’s giant pumpkin competes at Washington State Fair

Cindy Tobeck began growing giant pumpkins six years ago at her home in Littlerock.

This year, the third-grade teacher at East Olympia Elementary School grew a pumpkin that weighed 1,484.5 pounds, earning second place at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.

The first-place pumpkin was grown by Stan Pugh of Puyallup — 1,609.5 pounds, according to fair spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme. Third place went to the 1,383.5-pound pumpkin grown by Joel Holland of Sumner, she said.

Last year, Tobeck’s 11-year-old daughter, Rosalyn, set a record at the fair for junior growers with a whopping 1,203-pound pumpkin.

“It was so much work for her, she decided to take the year off,” Tobeck said.

Before hauling her pumpkin to the fairgrounds Friday for the official weigh-in, Tobeck brought it to school so that students could guess the weight. The student whose guess is closest to the actual weight will win a pumpkin pie contest for his or her classroom, Tobeck said.

Tobeck’s giant pumpkins have become an East Olympia fall tradition, according to principal Patty Kilmer.

“One year, she grew one in the school garden,” Kilmer said.

This year’s pumpkin turned out pudgier than those in the past and was on track to set a world record, Tobeck said.

But instead of leaving it on the vine and letting it grow through October, she decided to enter it at the fair.

“It’s my dream in life to win the fair, and I think I’m going to do it,” she said Friday morning before the weigh-in.

Tobeck said the pumpkin hit a growth spurt a few weeks ago. At one point it was gaining 48 pounds a night.

Was it the warmer weather? “Late spring and throughout the summer, we were 3 degrees above average,” Tobeck said.

Was it the plant’s seed, which originated in Rhode Island and was plucked from an Atlantic Giant variety that had reached 1,623 pounds?

“It’s got good genetics,” Tobeck said.

Was it the soil, which Tobeck had analyzed twice during the past year by a laboratory in Idaho? The results of those tests indicated that her garden’s soil had a perfect balance of nutrients, Tobeck said.

The teacher believes it was probably all of those factors, plus the fact that the pumpkin had plenty of access to good old-fashioned farm-fresh fertilizer.

“This happened to grow where we dumped the chicken manure,” Tobeck said.

After the fair, she said, her pumpkin will probably be displayed at a local business, and then she’ll sell it to a professional carver.

Tobeck is a member of the Pacific Northwest Giant Pumpkin Growers, an organization that’s dedicated to “creating goodwill and friendship through the fascinating sport/hobby of growing giant pumpkins,” according to its website.

“One thing I love about competitive growing is driving my pumpkin down the road to the weigh-off,” Tobeck said. “People go crazy when they see it taking up the entire back of the truck. Plus, giant pumpkin people are crazy and fun.”