By Chris Edwards
WARREN – It all begins with a seed. From the mightiest oak to a pine sapling out in a field, they all started as a single seed. Humans and their endeavors are like that, too.
It’s a concept that Rusty West has learned in both his calling as a preacher and with his hobby of farming.
West, who calls farming “therapeutic,” grows various crops on a five-acre spread right up the road from where he grew up. The fourth-generation Tyler Countian, who pastors the Hillister Assembly of God church, was known at one time for growing watermelons that grew in excess of 100 lbs. apiece.
He recalled fondly the truckers who would stop as they headed from Houston, and how they would look at the fruits of his labor he sold on the roadside with a degree of shock and surprise.
Although West said he stopped growing his watermelons a year ago (“You learn to not grow anything you can’t pick up,” he joked) he brought the same “go big or go home” mentality to his next endeavor in growing a different kind of gourds.
West has moved on to giant pumpkins, and although the exercise in Murphy’s Law that 2020 has been tried to derail this goal, he still grew several that weighed nearly 400 lbs. or more.
“They’re just really fun to grow. It takes a lot of tender-loving care, and you’ve pretty much got to mess with ‘em every day,” he said.
He planted his pumpkin seeds on June 3 and picked them on Sept. 13. His goal was to grow a pumpkin that weighed 500 lbs., and although he did not meet that mighty weight, three of them weighed 395 lbs., 420 lbs. and 434 lbs.
It’s all the more impressive when one considers that an unwelcome guest named Hurricane Laura decimated most of his pumpkin patch.
Next year, West said, he will plant them a little later, and instead of setting the goal at 500 lbs., he’s aiming for 700.
The pumpkins he’s grown, thus far, are quite a bit larger than the watermelons he once grew, and deemed too heavy to lift, however, with his tractor and some straps, he came up with a way to transport them after harvesting.
While most common pumpkins range in size from a few ounces to the plump 15-20-pounders (yes, West grows those too) Giant pumpkins are generally described as any that weigh more than 150 lbs.
West said the growth cycle for the giant pumpkins is 120-130 days, and in the last week of growth, they can grow up to 50 pounds per day.
While he was growing his patch of giants, he fertilized them every week, and gave them plenty of attention. He used pesticides to keep the bugs away, and used both a commercial fertilizer, as well as one of his own formulation.
He said the giant pumpkins he grows are edible, and there have been some reactions of disbelief. West told a story about a passerby who saw one of the pumpkins and West outside his home. The traveler stopped to talk to West, and asked him where he’d bought the giant plastic pumpkin prop, or what he’d thought was a giant piece of plastic from some seasonal decor emporium.
One of his goals for next year is to load up a giant pumpkin on a flatbed trailer and get it to the Tyler County Fair, where he’d like to showcase it as a prop for people to pose for photos in front of.
Growing things, whether one is raising small fruit or giant gourds, is a gift. West is blessed with the knowledge, patience and attention to detail to pull it off. West credits help from the Lord above, as well.
With all those traits and his mindset, he’ll go above and beyond next year’s lofty goal for the gourds.