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TALKIN' with DOKKEN: How do pumpkins grow so large, can any pumpkin reach that size?

Rick Swenson of Fergus Falls, Minn., paddles down the Red River in a giant pumpkin Saturday morning as he attempts to set the Guinness World Record for longest distance paddled in a pumpkin. Swenson planned to paddle to Oslo, Minn., a distance of about 26 river miles, which would more than triple the current pumpkin-paddling record. (Brad Dokken photo)

Q. I enjoyed following the story of the guy who paddled a giant pumpkin on the Red River from Grand Forks to Oslo, Minn. How does he get the pumpkins to grow so large, and can pretty much any pumpkin reach that size?

A. The story indeed was a hoot. For those who may have missed it, Rick Swenson of Fergus Falls, Minn., paddled a 1,086-pound giant pumpkin from Grand Forks to Oslo to set the unofficial Guinness World Record for longest distance paddled in a pumpkin.

Swenson's trek covered nearly 26 miles in 13 hours and 40 minutes. Once he files all of the necessary documentation with Guinness officials, and they confirm his journey, Swenson should have the official world record for paddling a pumpkin.

Regardless of the outcome, Swenson's quest for pumpkin glory drew plenty of spectators at both ends of his journey. It's not every day, after all, that someone paddles a pumpkin down the Red River.

Not just any pumpkin can grow that large. Swenson raises a variety called "Howard Dill's Atlantic Giant" that is developed especially for size.

He said some growers now have raised the pumpkins to weigh more than 2,000 pounds.

"It's just an amazing beast to get that size," Swenson said.

Swenson says his formula for raising pumpkins is "lots of TLC." He started this year's crop in late March, starting each of his four pumpkin plants in separate greenhouses with heaters in each.

"My electric bill goes up $150 a month in April," Swenson said.

He moves the plants outdoors as soon as the frost risk subsides and prunes them literally hundreds of times to promote growth. His biggest pumpkin to date weighed 1,227 pounds, but Swenson says he eventually hopes to hit the 1,400-pound mark.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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