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Colerain man sets sights on King Pumpkin crown

Contender looking forward to weigh-in

Photos provided JEFF THEIL of Colerain poses with one of his giant pumpkins he hopes to enter into the King Pumpkin weigh-in that still is expected to happen despite the cancellation of the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival announced this week.

COLERAIN — Jeff Theil has spent hundreds of hours carefully growing his giant pumpkins with the hopes of having them compete in the King Pumpkin competition this year.

And despite the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival being canceled this year, it appears he might still get to show off his giant gourds.

Officials announced this week the festival, due to COVID-19 concerns and related mandates from the state, will not happen in late September.

However, organizers still would like to hold the King Pumpkin weigh-in event in some form. This was good news for Theil, who has been working hard every day to keep his pumpkins healthy and growing at his home in Colerain.

“I got three going currently,” Theil said, noting if he cannot take all of his pumpkins to Barnesville there are other competitions he could enter in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Earlier this summer he talked to the Barnesville competition’s coordinator who told him they still planned on having it despite the pandemic.

“I was hoping it would die off so we could have the full festival. The fact they canceled it, I understand it — I may not like it or agree with it,” Theil said.

Theil noted since the state announced this week that county fairs had to be canceled, except for the junior fair or 4-H components, it was likely the pumpkin festival would not be allowed to go forward anyway.

But the prize money is raised separately from the festival, making it easier to continue it.

Theil noted there still is plenty of time for things to go wrong between now and the weigh in when it comes to pumpkin growing. He has been doing it for about five years. It might be in his genes, however, as his father, Bill Theil of Galina, Ohio, likes to grow giant gourds, too. He won the King Pumpkin weigh-in 1985 with a 300-plus pound pumpkin.

“So far it’s a little slower than I wanted it to be,” Theil said of his growing season. “We’ll see what happens in the next month or so. … There is a lot of luck and a lot of God in it. If he wants it to happen it will happen, if he doesn’t, it won’t.”

Last year Theil’s pumpkin weighed in at 854 pounds during the festival. Theil said on average he waters his pumpkins for four to five hours a day. He also uses insecticides to keep bugs from eating them. He said he continues to learn about the science of growing big pumpkins from the online community. He shares his experience on his Facebook page titled “Jeff’s Giant Growing Journal.”

Part of being successful, he said, is having good, healthy soil and purchasing good seeds. And just getting some experience under one’s belt is important, too. For example, the first year Theil tried to grow big pumpkins he over-fertilized and accidentally killed his plants. Each year after his gourds have gotten bigger.

Having a supportive family is helpful, too, since the hobby is time consuming.

“Basically it’s all me. … My wife (Michelle) is very understanding. She wishes it didn’t take so much time and it’s not her thing, but she is happy for me,” Theil said.

Theil said his children, Hunter, 13, and Sara, 10, are not into pumpkin farming because it does take a lot of time. But for Theil, getting to see others’ reactions to the giant gourds is fun. He also enjoys watching them grow. While it is more difficult to see now, early on it was easy to observe how quickly they were increasing in size. For example, one pumpkin grew from the size of a golf ball to 523 pounds in 30 days. He estimated they are putting on about 36 pounds of weight each day now.

Theil said he has never tallied how much it costs to grow a giant pumpkin, but some of the supplies can be expensive at first, although they can last for more than one season. For example, chemicals such as fertilizer can total between $500 and $600 per year.

“You can spend as little and as much as you’re willing. I know guys who spend several thousand dollars a year growing them,” he noted. “I spend nowhere near that.”

If it had not been canceled, the festival would have taken place the last week of September. The festival committee said it would still announce a date, time and place for the King Pumpkin weigh-in.

“We realize growers have put many relentless hours and money into growing the huge pumpkins. We encourage growers near and far to participate,” the festival committee said in a press release.

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