WAYNESBORO — As you drive down Locust Avenue in Waynesboro, you might just miss the giant gourds down in Steve Wright's yard.
You are greeted first by five giant watermelons — the largest Wright estimates weighs about 200 pounds, or more. Further down the yard are 13 large pumpkins, one he estimates to be between 500 and 600 pounds, the other up to 1,200 pounds.
"It's quite a sight," he said.
He and his wife Aileen spend a good portion of their day talking with those who drive down the alleyway behind their house to get a glimpse of the large pumpkins that are scattered throughout. Aileen says she enjoys talking to the people who come by. The most asked question, "Are they real?"
Yes they are.
He and his pumpkin and watermelon are headed to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh on Oct. 11, eying the several thousand dollar prize for either category. He's hoping to surpass the North Carolina state record for watermelon, which is at 268. He doesn't know the exact weights of any of his entries and he likes to keep it that way until the actual fair.
"I just know it's big and I hate measuring it and getting an estimate because my imagination always makes it bigger," he said. "And I don't like failure. So yeah, I'm going to play out this one. We're just going to take it and see what happens."
This is something Steve has been doing for years. He's headed to the North Carolina fair several times with his oversized crops.
Growing these large pumpkins, actually a squash-like pumpkin rather than a full-bred pumpkin, takes skill and practice. Wright has been gardening his entire life and he's got the large produce down to a complete science.
They're his babies. The pumpkins sit atop platforms underneath tarp canopies and have fans blowing on them to help prevent rot. This year, though, he's enlisted the help of Aileen. She's helped graft the plants to make new crops to plant this year, a tedious process that takes small hands and good eyes.
Steve said of 10 grafts that Aileen does, she has a 100% survival rate, which is unheard of. They graft the plants, which essentially gives a new plant twice the nutrients and makes them stronger and less susceptible to disease, so they can yield the largest and heaviest end product.
It all started one day, more than 10 years ago, when his daughter came home and asked him about growing large pumpkins. So he started researching it and found seeds that grew large gourds in Canada and ordered them.
Steve said this year's crop almost didn't happen. Normally, they are planting in April but a tornado swept through Waynesboro and much of the county in late-April, destroying his greenhouses. Luckily, they were still able to plant but it was later than anticipated.
"It shredded all the greenhouses, put holes in them and we don't have any more greenhouses," he said. "Thankfully, Lord, we didn't have any plants in there. But, we had everything set up ready to go."
It's a labor of love, something the two give back to the neighborhood. That's Aileen's favorite part. She said that many tell her their garden is a "treasure to the neighborhood."
"We just want to make the neighborhood happy," she said.
For Steve, it's more of a battle.
"It's, for me, evil. Because sometimes you get nothing," he said.
He keeps going because the excitement of it.
"And the competition. I'm all basketball player. I like competition," he said.
Laura Peters is the trending topics reporter at The News Leader. Have a news tip on local trends or businesses? Or a good feature? You can reach reporter Laura Peters (she/her) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @peterslaura. Subscribe to The News Leader at newsleader.com.
This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Giant pumpkin grows in Waynesboro and is headed to the NC State Fair