Great Pumpkins Archive pick
October 22, 2001
Fall is a season for traditional harvest festivals and county fairs. In many parts of the United States and Canada, these fairs and festivals are a place for farmers and serious backyard gardeners to show off the biggest and best of that summer's growing season. And in what is becoming a regular occurrence, fall is also a time when the world record for biggest pumpkin is certain to be broken.

The 2001 fall festivals and fairs were no exception. A new world's record pumpkin weighing 1260 pounds was displayed at a fair in Massachusetts. But within a week, that world record was broken at the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off in Canby, Oregon. The new world record pumpkin, weighing an incredible 1262 pounds, was grown by Geneva Emmons of Washington state. Giant pumpkin enthusiasts believe there's no reason to think next year won't see more records broken.

How big is a giant pumpkin? The circumference of a 1000 pound pumpkin (measured around the widest part since the pumpkin is a rather flattened sphere at best) is around 15 feet. During the height of the growing season, the giant pumpkin's circumference increases by an average of 4 to 6 inches per day. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, that means it is adding between 10 to 20 pounds of weight each day.

  • For more information on giant pumpkins, you and your students can visit The Pumpkin Patch. Another site supporting giant pumpkin enthusiasts, BigPumpkins.com, features photos of this year's record breakers.

  • Students might want to try growing their own giant pumpkins next year. They can find growing hints from former world record pumpkin growers in the article, How to Grow Atlantic Giant Pumpkins. Seeds are available from Howard Dill Enterprises and should be bought enough ahead of time to have seedlings ready for planting in May.
Teaching the Problem
  • Your kindergarten and first grade students will enjoy weighing pumpkins in this activity from Riverdeep's new Destination Math, Mastering Skills & Concepts Course I. Teacher support for this session, including a lesson plan, are also available online.
Destination Math
  • This is also a great opportunity to practice estimation skills. Have students look at a pumpkin and cut a piece of string that they think will be as long as the pumpkin's circumference. Then the students can wrap their strings around the pumpkin to check their prediction. Was it too long or too short? Repeat with a different-sized pumpkin.
  • Take a small pumpkin. Open it; clean it out; wash the seeds and put them in a container. Have students estimate the number of pumpkin seeds. Count the seeds and compare results. Have students do a bar graph showing class estimates. Repeat with a second pumpkin of a different size.
  • Students might also find it fun to predict pumpkin weights, collect data on weights versus circumference, circumference versus number of ribs on the pumpkin, etc.
  • Great pumpkins get bigger every year partly because pumpkin enthusiasts constantly devise improved ways of providing the pumpkin plant with perfect growing conditions. But the pumpkins are also giants due to selective breeding. Science students can explore the concepts behind improving seed lines in the Logal Middle School Science Gateways activities, Principles of Heredity and What is a Trait?

  • While giant pumpkins are not exactly spheres, you can use them to help teach and reinforce math concepts involving circles, spheres, pi, circumference, and volume. (If students need to review pi, have them explore the Tangible Math Geometry Inventor activity, Circles and Pi.)

    The formula for circumference of a circle is:

    C=2r

    The formula for the volume of a sphere is:

    V=4/3r3

    where r is the radius and equals 3.1416

    Students can use these formulas to solve for missing data. For example: If a pumpkin's circumference increases by 24 inches, how much has its volume increased? Why does a 5 inch increase in radius on a small pumpkin create less of an increase in volume than the same 5 inch increase in radius on a large pumpkin? (Hint: What is being cubed? The increase or the whole radius?)

Extending the Problem

  1. Students can see how close their calculation of a pumpkin's volume using the sphere formula is to the pumpkin's actual volume. It the pumpkin is small enough to fit in a wastebasket, you can use water displacement to find the pumpkin's volume. Just in case, you might want to do this outside. Place the wastebasket inside a dishpan or a large plastic box. Fill the wastebasket to the rim with water. Place the pumpkin in the wastebasket. Water will be pushed out of the wastebasket and collected in the dishpan. Measure the volume of water displaced by the pumpkin to find the volume of the pumpkin. How close were the two results? Is there a noticable difference between pumpkins that are more spherical versus ones that are squat or oblong?

  2. Can a person grow giant pumpkins just anywhere? Students can examine this list of the top 1000 giant pumpkins grown in North America over the last several years. Which states or Canadian provinces are on the list? If states are not on the list, does this indicate that giant pumpkins cannot be grown there? Is it possible that Southern states are not represented because no one has tried growing giant pumpkins in the South? What growing conditions do giant pumpkins need that may not be present in different parts of the country?

  3. By some estimates, 90% of the pumpkins grown and sold in North America eventually become... jack-o'-lanterns. If you or your students are looking for new ideas on carving this year's wildest or most inventive pumpkin, visit the following sites:

    • Jack O' Lantern Carving 101, which offers great tips on how to transfer designs to your pumpkin and how to carve.
    • Speaking of designs, you can find jack-o'-lantern design patterns to download and transfer to your pumpkin when you visit the Halloween site at Byroads Magazine. (And a few ghost stories, too!)
    • Read the CNN.com story, "Carving up a spooky Halloween," in which a "kitchen artist" from Atlanta tells what it's like to turn a 500-pound pumpkin into a monstrously huge jack-o'-lantern.
Fun Pumpkin Facts
Pumpkins are grown all over the world, except Antarctica. It is thought they originated in Central America.

Pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables! Technically, so are cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers.

There's a word for the fear of turning into a pumpkin: apocolocynposis.