21Country: LaOtto’s giant gardener

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LAOTTO, Ind. (WPTA21) – Next to Jim Beal’s house in LaOtto, remain the last fruits – or rather vegetables, of his 2021 harvest.

The retired engineer turned to a new obsession: giant gardening.

“We grow up to compete,” he told us. “There are like, eight different categories. The main ones are giant pumpkins. There are squash, long gourds, marrow, tomatoes, watermelon, bushel gourds – basically you compete for all of them if you want to.

“Most people just grow giant pumpkins,” he said, “a little bit because, without a doubt, that’s the main thing.”

Beal starts growing his plants indoors at the end of March.

Before the danger of frost has passed, he has already installed 20×20 greenhouses on his property where they can be buried as quickly as possible.

“My wife definitely questions the time I spend with them,” he joked. “.

Most of the work takes place in June and July.

“There is only a limited time for him to grow up,” he explained. “During the solstice, when the daylight is longest, you want to get the plant up and running, so you can enjoy those long days of sunshine before the sun starts to go down.”

His summer days are spent fertilizing, spraying pesticides and water.

Too much fertilizer and the pumpkin may split during growth.

Although pesticides and other sprays protect his vegetables, it makes the food he grows inedible and poisonous.

As for water, giant pumpkins consume 100 to 150 gallons per day!

Such a staggering amount that Beal has converted his pond to a water reservoir to satisfy growing pumpkins and controls his irrigation system via wifi.

He was also successful, in just a few years he honed his hobby.

“In 2017, they have a category Master Gardener, where they throw all the other categories together, and the best person wins, ”he said, referring to all of his giant veggies. “In fact, I was tenth in the world! It has been a very good year for me – I haven’t matched it since. “

His biggest pumpkin to date weighed 1,175 pounds.

To put that in perspective, the state record just set this year was 1,979 by Spencer’s Tom Mobley.

He beat title holder Mark Goodman of Marion by nearly two hundred pounds.

Beal says there is a great relationship between risk and reward when growing.

Those who set records often take growth to extremes and could waste a year of time and resources as the vegetables divide during development.

But watching those giant pumpkins grow about 40 pounds a day, that’s what got Beal hooked in the first place.

RELATED: Giant Pumpkins Star at Pennville’s Annual Fall Festival

“My dad got me started – he actually went to the Pennville Pumpkin Festival,” he explained. “Guy, gave him seeds, made him start doing this.” I was at his house when he got a 500-pound pumpkin, and that kind of – well, it didn’t – got me started doing it.

His father has also become one of Beal’s toughest competitors.

“At the Fair Oaks competition, we each took a long gourd. We knew one of us had won – we knew it, ”he explained. “But when they actually handed out the awards, they handed the awards to: Don Beal, first place. Jim Beal, first place! It was 112 and 3/4 inches – they decided it was too close to call and gave us both first.

“I could never do that in 20 lifetimes, to get to the nearest quarter inch to grow something this big… with my dad,” he continued.

But perhaps Jim Beal’s biggest claim to fame was when his pumpkins were shown on national television.

They were sanctified and used as rafts in the “Fall in Love Fest” obstacle course on The Bachelor.

Beal and fellow Hoosiers Mikkal Hodge and Kelly Klinker contributed six of the fourteen used in the segment, delivering them from Indiana to Pennsylvania.

“It was hilarious!” he told us. “It was a lot of fun to see him on TV and a lot of people had fun.”

In addition to time and manpower, the hobby can also increase costs.

Beal said a single pumpkin seed fetched more than $ 850 at a local auction.

“I’m not here,” he admitted. “I’m not even close to paying that much, but people are paying that much for a very rare and proven seed.”

Most producers are keen to help others get involved.

“Every pumpkin grower is fast enough to give seeds,” he added. “They all came from the genetics of a 2,000 pound pumpkin. He may not have hit 2,000 pounds, but the genetics are there.

For those interested in growing giant pumpkins, Beal recommends that they get involved with the Indiana Pumpkin Growers Association.

“I have always grown over a thousand in the last 4-5 years,” he said. “That’s what I’m chasing, is to become bigger than that. You are always trying to improve your personal best. This is what the club really strives not to be the best but to break their personal best. “

“It’s a huge amount of work, it’s also fun,” Beal told us. “This is the way I can bet. I recommend to anyone with space – it takes a bit of space, to try it out.


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