Group effort takes the prize With a flush of the toilet, Tacomans help grow world’s biggest pumpkin

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Joel Holland shows off his pride and joy at the 44th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Photo by Mari Lou Holland

Congratulations, Tacomans! You may have played a role in growing the world’s largest pumpkin without even knowing it.

On Oct. 14, Joel Holland, a retired fire department battalion chief from Sumner, completed his annual journey to Half Moon Bay, Calif. where he entered his harvest in the 44th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off and not only won, but set the record for the heaviest pumpkin in the history of the competition.

This year’s pumpkin, an Atlantic Giant, weighed in at a massive 2,363 pounds.

Holland’s secret? In combination with his expert work as a horticulturist, some suggest TAGRO, short for “Tacoma Grows,” may be the key to his success.

TAGRO is a line of soil amendment produced by the City of Tacoma using a blend of pasteurized wastewater byproducts, also known as biosolids (or more plainly, human waste) and other weed-free gardening components. TAGRO products have received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest rating for use in landscaping, vegetable gardens, and indoor gardens and its use has been known to yield harvests and lawns so successful that it has been hauled to gardens at locations as prestigious as the White House.

The City’s biosolids program has received numerous national awards, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s first place award for the best biosolids program in the country.

Holland was first introduced to TAGRO many years ago when he was searching for an organic compost material that would drain well and also be free of weeds and pathogens.

“I tried TAGRO and was pleased with the results,” Holland said. “TAGRO seemed to have all the properties I was looking for and provided primary and secondary nutrients, as well. “

While Holland uses TAGRO throughout his garden, it plays an especially important role in his competitive pumpkin growing technique. According to Holland, giant pumpkin plants are comprised of vines that have dormant buds at the base of each leaf stock.

“Often those buds on the bottom will naturally root down as they are in contact with the soil,” Holland said. To get the buds on the top of the vine to grow and also send down roots, Holland covers the area with TAGRO, creating an atmosphere where the vines can thrive.

“TAGRO has sand added to the mix, which makes it drain well and we avoid any problems with the vines staying too wet and possibly rotting,” Holland explained.

These pumpkins grow at exponential rates, with a peak of about 50 pounds per day in August. By the competition in October, Holland’s giant was just over 100 days old.

Despite the monstrous size of Holland’s winning pumpkin, the world record belongs to Mathias Willemijns of Belgium. In 2016, Willemijns won the European Championship with a pumpkin weighing in at 2,624 pounds. Nonetheless, Holland’s winning gourd is now the second largest pumpkin in recorded world history, also holding the records for both the largest pumpkin grown outdoors and the largest ever to be produced in North America.

The pumpkin has since been shipped off to New York, where it was displayed at the New York Botanical Garden and made a special appearance, with Holland, on the hit show “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” At a special event, Holland was able to cut a hole in his prize winner, and harvest the seeds with the hope of growing equally successful offspring next year.

“I hope to continue to use TAGRO in the pumpkin patch in seasons to come,” said Holland. “It has been a successful part of our strategy for many years.”

Who knew that by simply flushing your toilet, you are contributing to something so big.

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