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New Richmond man ready to defend giant pumpkin record

Chris Stevens estimates for a living. He is a professional construction estimator for Derrick Homes of New Richmond.

Despite his skills, even he didn't see it coming last year when his giant pumpkin set the world record at 1,810.5 pounds, crushing the previous mark of 1,725.

"It was estimated at 1,550. To get one to go that heavy is incredibly rare," he said.

Stevens, a 2000 construction program graduate at UW-Stout, will be back to defend his world title the next two weeks. He will enter his new crop of giant pumpkins in weigh-offs at festivals Saturday, Oct. 1, in Nekoosa, Wis. and Saturday, Oct. 8, in Stillwater, Minn.

"I've got one pumpkin about the same size as last year, but I don't expect it to go that heavy," he said, adding that he will take his second-biggest pumpkin to Nekoosa and save his biggest one -- like he did last year -- for Stillwater because it's the closest thing for him to a hometown weigh-off.

Other than as a child, he had almost no gardening experience when he began growing giant pumpkins in 2006, he said.

Last year's win earned his family a trip to New York City, where Chris and the giant pumpkin appeared on the TV show "Live with Regis and Kelly." It was carved and displayed at the New York Botanical Garden.

The Stevens family drove the pumpkin in a pickup truck to New York.

"When you're traveling down the freeway, the looks you get from travelers are unbelievable," said Stevens.

Specially bred seeds, traded and sold among growers, are needed for giant pumpkins. One seed could cost hundreds of dollars. Stevens uses a special mix of soil and fertilizer but said that weather by far is the most important factor.

"That really hurt us this year," said Stevens, citing too much heat.

He is drawn to the competition aspect of growing giant pumpkins (He ran track and cross country all four years he was at UW-Stout.), but loves the hobby for other reasons as well: "It's a sense of accomplishment to see something go from zero to 1,500 pounds in 90 days. They're really fun to watch grow, but they're a ton of work."