Rogers City residents retiring from giant pumpkin pastime
ROGERS CITY — Rogers City residents will once again — just once again — get to experience the magic of Jim Smythe’s giant pumpkins in the city’s downtown.
Jim’s 700-pound pumpkin, grown in his garden off Detloff Street, will be displayed throughout the month of October outside of the city post office, 188 N. 3rd St.
But this year’s display will be bittersweet for Jim and his wife, Ouida, because Jim is retiring from the hobby.
Viewing Jim’s pumpkins has become a favorite pastime for the city’s residents. Last October, the city held its first pumpkin lighting ceremony, during which city officials lit up Jim’s pumpkins at the corner of Third and Erie streets.
It’s not unusual for residents, and even folks from out of town, to stop by the Smythes’ yard to check in on his pumpkins or watch them grow. The Smythes have met many of their neighbors and friends while growing the pumpkins.
“We made a whole lot of friends — new friends,” Jim said. “We had a whole lot of people stop by, many from around the state.”
Even with the buzz his pumpkins generate around town, the cost, time, and labor involved in growing giant pumpkins has added up for the Smythes, who want to have a little more freedom and spontaneity in their retirement.
Jim said there were times when about 40 people would be in their backyard. Most would park in the alleyway behind their house.
Asked why he likes to grow the pumpkins, Jim replied, “Did you ever look at a giant pumpkin and not smile?
“Giant pumpkins are magic,” he continued. “I don’t know what it is about them.”
Growing giant pumpkins is a full-time job that begins in March and ends in October.
Jim sprouts the seeds indoors in March, then plants them in his garden outside under a special homemade structure to keep them warm. He uses underground heating cables to keep the plant warm and full-spectrum lights to help them grow.
Jim selects the pumpkins he wants to grow, as only one pumpkin can grow per plant. Then, as they grow, he arranges the vines, cuts off secondary vines, and cuts off any other pumpkins that attempt to grow on the vine.
He waters his pumpkins four to five times a day, and mixes up either a fertilizer, fungicide, or bacteria that gets applied to his pumpkins on a regular schedule. Fertilizer is applied under each leaf.
“I did some sort of fertilizing or putting on an insecticide or a fungicide every day but Sunday,” he said. “So it was six days a week putting on some sort of mixture.”
Jim said the fertilizer costs the most. With other expenses factored in, he estimates it cost upwards of $1,400 to grow his pumpkins this year.
This year’s giant pumpkins grew a little smaller than last year’s. Jim estimates one of this year’s pumpkins weighed over 800 pounds and the other weighed around 700 pounds. He grew three pumpkins last year that weighed in at 707, 854, and 892 pounds.
Jim grew a smaller, Cinderella pumpkin — named because its shape resembles the carriage from the Disney movie — which grew with the stem pointing upward instead of allowing the pumpkin to grow on its side.
The Smythes plan to carve the two remaining pumpkins and illuminate them in front of their home.
Jim said that, while he will probably miss growing the pumpkins, he won’t miss the work. He and Ouida plan to grow tomatoes, radishes, and beans in their garden next year.
Jim is also planning his next adventure in gardening — growing cantaloupes.
Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.