The Lovitt family has a unique hobby – growing giant pumpkins

Many people have a hobby they really enjoy. For some, hobbies might be things like sewing, reading or playing sports, but for the Lovitt family it is giant pumpkin growing. For the last 12 years, the family has grown giant pumpkins for the North Carolina State Fair competitions. 

The whole family is involved in the year-round commitment to growing the best pumpkin possible and getting it to weigh-offs in October. Brother and sister, TJ and Marina, enter pumpkins every year. 

While the growing is now a whole-family activity, the idea originated from dad Gary. After seeing a giant pumpkin seed in a store one day, he decided that it would be awesome to have a picture of his children in front of a giant vegetable. 

“I was in a store buying my vegetable seeds for the spring. I picked up a pack of seeds and the pack above it was for giant pumpkins and had a picture of a little boy standing with the pumpkin,” Gary said. “I just remember saying that it would be neat to get a picture of my kid with a pumpkin that I grew. Twelve years later here we are.” 

As you can imagine, growing pumpkins that have now reached 600 pounds or more is not easy. Gary admits that while learning the ins and outs of his new hobby wasn’t smooth sailing at first, he eventually got the hang of it. 

“I pulled my first plant up because it died. Over the winter I went into research mode and found a website where you could ask people questions about growing,” said Gary. “The next year I did a little better, but started too many plants and wore myself out. I learned from my mistakes and from that year on it’s been more about competitions.” 

To enter their pumpkins in competitions at the Fair in October, the family has to start the process in late winter the year before. At that time, they focus mainly on getting the soil perfect and working on the green houses and irrigation systems. When the spring comes around, it’s go time. 

“We start the seed itself inside sometime in middle of April towards the first week of May. That is usually the golden time. But you can grow them later and still end up at the Fair,” Gary said. 

Every day, the family spends at least two hours tending to their patch to ensure that they yield the best crop possible. Gary saying that he even spends upwards of eight hours in the garden some days. 

”To do what I call first-class competition, at that level, you’re going to spend an hour per day per plant,” Gary said. “The hours we spend now equals more pounds on the scale in the fall.” 

After the seed is started, the summer is where it gets difficult. Pumpkins are a cold weather crop, so getting them through hot and humid North Carolina summers can be difficult, he added. 

Every year is different for the Lovitt family when it comes to the luck of the crop. Depending on the weather and various diseases that can occur in plants, the size of the final pumpkin is not always the same. 

“It’s trending towards a pumpkin year, some years watermelons do better,” Gary said. “It depends on how Mother Nature wants to let us play with it. Anytime now disease can set in or you could have storms, which can injure a season quickly.” 

Gary also grows giant watermelons but admits that giant pumpkins are where his heart is. He loves how his kids are involved with his gardening and wants to keep it up for as long as he can. His daughter and son both enter their pumpkins into the State Fair every year but have different ideas of what the perfect pumpkin is.

“There are two fan bases. You’ve got the people who go for size and then you’ve got the people that want to grow a big, orange pumpkin. Your typical mindset is that a pumpkin should be orange. I’m a orange head, they’re pretty to me. That being said, I try to stay true to my orange pretty ones, the genetics have come a long way in the last few years which now allows us to grow both,” Gary said. 

The ability to grow both pumpkins fit for both sides of the spectrum is good for TJ, Gary’s 20-year-old son, who always goes for size. “I like growing them to see how big they get,” TJ said. To grow the biggest plant possible, he spends a lot of time out in the garden weeding and watering.

TJ has been very successful in growing giant pumpkins over the years, his personal biggest being 611 pounds and the biggest for the family being 689 pounds. That pumpkin earned him second place at the N.C. State Fair around five years ago. While TJ and his dad acknowledge that pumpkins don’t always take, they said that their pumpkin looks pretty good for this year’s Fair. 

“TJ’s plant is a massive plant,” Gary said. “It is the biggest, healthiest plant we’ve ever grown. That doesn’t mean that it will turn out, but we’ve got a good chance at a personal best.” 

“I just want to get one to set and get one to the scale. I got a good chance at it this year,” TJ added. 

After getting your plant through the summer, it is fall and time to start getting ready for the State Fair. This means finding a way to get a massive pumpkin out of the patch and into a truck for transport. To do this the family uses a tripod to lift the pumpkin, one of TJ’s favorite parts about the entire process. He even lifted his 611-pound pumpkin with one hand using the tripod. 

Driving down the road with giant pumpkins is an adventure of its own, the family saying that they get funny looks while driving to the fairgrounds for judging. When they get to judging time, the family says that winning is not their top priority, “you don’t always have to have the best at everything to succeed,” Gary said. 

After the fair ends, the family is not done showing off their plants quite yet. From neighbors to the mail lady and even people driving down the street, the family loves to share their hobby with those around them. “After the State Fair we put a display at my house in the yard and people ride by and take pictures,” TJ said. 

Overall, the process of growing a pumpkin big enough for competitions is a long and tedious one. What makes it worth it for Gary is the lessons that it is teaching his children. 

”I want them to know that they can grow anything if they set their mind to it. For me, gardening is where I do my thinking. It teaches you a lot of patience,” Gary said. 

Stop by the Agri Supply Exhibition Center Oct. 12-22 to see the winning giant vegetables and who knows, maybe you’ll even find one of the Lovitt’s pumpkins on display with another winning ribbon.

Competitions for the 2023 N.C. State Fair are now open! Visit the N.C. State Fair’s official website to register for competitions today. The deadline for submitting entries is Sept. 15, but don’t hesitate to enter in your preferred competitions early.  

About Karsyn Westerbeek

Hi everybody! I am Karsyn Westerbeek, but you can call me Wolf Tracks. I am a rising senior at North Carolina State University where I major in Communication with a minor in Business Administration. I am from Warsaw, North Carolina, and have always been a fan of the Wolfpack. I absolutely love the State Fair and its ability to bring our community together. That being said, I am so excited to be working as a public relations intern for the State Fair this summer!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *