Taylorsville couple credited with largest pumpkin in Utah at 1,608 pounds for 2019Oct 05, 2019 10:30PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson
It takes a village — or just a household — to raise a giant pumpkin. Taylorsville’s Andrew Israelsen babied this year’s mammoth pumpkin, and wife Yvonne meticulously recorded daily weight gains of their “baby.” (Photo by Jennifer J. Johnson)
By Jennifer J. Johnson
When you are following the Google Maps driving instructions to Andrew and Yvonne Israelsen’s house and reach the street in Taylorsville they live on — you soon realize you do not need the instructions.
There it sits — more polygonal than round, resting on its side, its stem facing you, like a nose Cyrano de Bergerac would be jealous of, the number “1608” tagged to the front of it, in proud, bold, black letters.
The “1608” represents not some quaint year in history, but the weight of this orange beastie.
It is the Great Pumpkin Linus van Pelt of the Charles M. Schultz’s “Peanuts” cartoon gang often spoke of in cartoon strips and films in the 1960s and 1970s. Linus “believed in” the pumpkin as a Santa Claus-like Halloween superhero.
Now, decades later, here sits the Great Pumpkin, in this Taylorsville front yard, officially the largest pumpkin in Utah for 2019.
“Andrew and his Great Pumpkin are amazing! What an impressive accomplishment,” said Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson. “We are so pleased to have Andrew and his wife, Yvonne, in Taylorsville. Their huge pumpkins bring a little bit of magic to our community and a lot of fun at this Halloween time of year.”
The backstory to 20 years of great pumpkin skirmishes
As he tells of the history of the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers—the organization, the website, and, mostly, the competition, Andrew wears a broad grin and, not surprisingly, a Peanuts-themed Great Pumpkin T-shirt.
Back in 1997, he was talking to a buddy and they decided, on a very light note, to grow some pumpkins.
But, as men do, it wouldn’t just be a matter of growing, but of competing.
And it wouldn’t be just a small competition, but an epic competition. Each of the two set out to one-up the other by growing the largest-possible pumpkin.
Andrew recalls his friend’s having “killed him,” by growing what the two once — now naively — found utterly “amazing”—a 70-pound pumpkin.
The two continued their mano-a-mano pumpkin-growing jousting for a few years, with their pumpkins reaching just below 100 pounds, then breaking that three-digit barrier.
Andrew’s mother-in-law told him about the annual Thanksgiving Point pumpkin weigh-off.
“By the end of the day, I was hooked,” he says.
A triple stem in his future?
That was 1999.
In 2009 he took home the honors for the largest pumpkin for not just Utah, but, for a region including entries from Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Ten years later? He’s back.
This year’s pumpkin is notable inasmuch that “it” (Andrew does not name his pumpkins — it is just too painful, to get too emotionally attached, knowing their ultimate destiny) is not only the largest pumpkin in the state/region, but is the fifth-largest pumpkin ever officially recorded in the state.
It is also the biggest “open-air” or non-greenhouse-grown pumpkin ever recorded in the state.
While giant-pumpkin growers are “great friends,” they are also “great friends who are very competitive,” he says, stern for just a moment.
This year, Thanksgiving Point scouts were sweet on one of the Israelsens’s rivals — Bountiful’s Dr. Mohamed Sadiq — as the likely winner.
Turns out, the distinguished doctor (who asserts you can literally hear a pumpkin grow, using a stethoscope to detect the flow of water through it), was several-hundred pounds short, as were the nearest competitors’ gourds from Cottonwood Heights and Heber City.
Andrew’s “it” pumpkin has now emblazoned Andrew’s name twice on the traveling trophy for the annual honors.
However, the legendary Matthew McConkie, a one-time pumpkin patch grower who has since sold out his farmland for development, has his name on the trophy four times.
Green with stems—and lighter-than-light envy in a pound-for-pound matchup
The Morgan County-hailing Great Pumpkin Whisperer bested his own record for Utah’s pumpkin two years ago, when his flaming beauty weighed in at 1,974 pounds.
Interestingly, McConkie predicted the weight of that pumpkin — four days before the official Thanksgiving Point weigh-in — telling one paper he estimated his ginormous fruit would weigh “between 1,900-2,000 pounds.”
This year, Andrew was able to estimate the size even more precisely.
Using pumpkin-geometry techniques, calculating side-to-side and top-to-bottom measurements, he and wife Yvonne calculated the weight to within two pounds, “shorting” it by day-of-weight guesstimating it would weigh 1,606, versus the actual 1,608.
The couple daily tracked the pumpkin’s growth progress. Yvonne methodically entered the burgeoning pumpkin’s weigh-ins on an Excel spreadsheet.
Pumpkin-growth math can show weight-gain numbers that would make competitive wrestlers and Las Vegas dancers having to endure regular weigh-ins tremble.
The Israelsens’s prized pumpkin this year gained a whopping 41 pounds in one day, then maintained a 35-pound-per-day growth metric for three full weeks.
Take that, Jenny Craig.
These pumpkin shepherds want the intense weight gain.
Great Pumpkin whispering: How to grow a prized pumpkin
Growing a ginormous pumpkin boils down to just a few steps — and a whole lot of hours (Yvonne “outs” Andrew as spending two hours a day for three months tending to his pump-kids).
Okay, would-be contenders, here are Andrew’s pumpkin-growing tips:
* Good seed (Andrew custom-bred this year’s winner, from two other strong “Atlantic Giant” ‘kins.)
* Good soil (“Over the years, a lot of manure” is how Andrew describes the additives to his pumpkin patch.)
* Good luck (With this year’s tough growing conditions — remember the fall and even summer hail? Andrew says he “got a little lucky” this year.)
When a fourth factor is offered — the Peanuts cartoon’s requirement of “Believing” in the Great Pumpkin — Andrew smiles, nodding in agreement.
“That one is the most important.”
Ginormous Pumpkins for 2019 and 2020
This year, Saturday Oct. 19, South Jordan’s Daybreak Lake will offer the “9th-Annual Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta,” featuring boats made of gigantic pumpkins.
The Isralesens’s “it” will not show there.
Its fate is to be carved by a professional ice-sculpture artist. The ice artist, representing America First Credit Union, will be carving the pumpkin Friday Oct. 25 at Station Park mall in Farmington.
Thanksgiving Point hosts the annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off at the end of each September.
Pleasant Grove’s Hee Haw Farms is
hosting its own pumpkin weigh off Saturday, Oct. 12. (Andrew says his rival, Dr. Sadiq is saving
his “big-boy pumpkin” for that event. Andrew and Yvonne are quaking, hoping to
retain their biggest-of 2019 honors.) Hee Haw Farms also hosts the 11th-annual
Giant Pumpkin Drop Saturday, Oct. 26—what it calls “a big ‘splat’ to help
families this Christmas season!”
The Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers have a Facebook group with more than 1,000 fans.
The group’s website is a great place to connect and even attend a springtime “how-to” clinic if you want to become a ginormous-pumpkin growing fiend.