From food for bears to paddle boats, there are lots of uses for those half-ton pumpkins and colossal cabbages.

Biggest tomato blue ribbon winner

Jodi Torpey’s winning tomato. Photo courtesy of the author

After I won the top prize at a garden center’s contest for the biggest tomato, I picked up my Amana Orange heirloom and carried it home. Not only did that tomato garner a $100 gift card, it made a tasty tomato salad and I saved some of the seeds, too.

That’s easy enough to do with a tomato, but what happens to other jumbo vegetables when the contest is over? Blue-ribbon winners or not, all those giant cabbages, zucchinis, and pumpkins need to be put to good use.

After the Alaska State Fair, gardeners donate hundreds of pounds of giant vegetables to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. Bears, moose, and bison feast on half-ton pumpkins, 90-pound cabbages, 50-pound marrows, and 7-pound carrots. Vegetable gardeners especially appreciate being able to get rid of their giant zucchinis, which can weigh 10 pounds or more.

Giant zucchinis are also a main feature at the annual Labor Day Festival in Boulder, Colorado. The Great Zucchini Race gives contestants a chance to select an extra-large summer squash, decorate it, and then race it against others for bragging rights. A portion of the race fee goes to a local nonprofit group.

Giant zucchini car races

Scenes from zucchini car races. Photo courtesy of the author.

Kids of all ages have a great time selecting what they think will be the most aerodynamic giant zuke for their heat. After wheels are hammered on, the fruits are decorated with paint, feathers, pompoms, pipe cleaners, and plenty of glitter. Then the fun begins.

Many zucchini cars have difficulty negotiating the steep track and wipe out before reaching the finish line. By the end of the first few heats, the race track is covered with zucchini guts and glitter.

As enjoyable as it is to watch zucchinis go flying by, pumpkins provide the most entertainment per pound. If you’ve ever watched a Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest you know what I mean.

giant pumpkin hoisted by crane

At the end of Littleton, Colorado’s giant pumpkin weigh-off, the massive gourds are hoisted by crane and dropped to the ground below. Photo courtesy of the author

Amateur inventors work to find ways to fling pumpkins as far as they can. During the contest, oversized slingshots, air cannons, and handmade trebuchets hurl pumpkins hundreds of yards into open fields. The pumpkin that travels the farthest wins.

Chunkin’ pumpkins is amusing, but giant pumpkins inspire folks to new heights of vegetable foolishness. I’ve seen 1500-pound pumpkins carved into mammoth jack-o-lanterns, and I’ve read accounts of giant pumpkin paddle boat races. Personally, my favorite way to enjoy a giant pumpkin is to watch it fall from the sky.

After the annual giant pumpkin weigh-off in Littleton, Colorado, several of the weighty runners-up provide an especially crowd-pleasing experience. Each giant pumpkin, weighing 900 pounds or more, is hoisted by a construction crane at least 100 feet in the air.

Pumpkin breaking apart on landing

Smash landing. Photo courtesy of the author

When the countdown reaches zero, the pumpkin is released. Spectators cheer wildly as each great gourd hits the pavement, exploding into hundreds of pieces. As soon as all the chunks have settled, kids race to gather seeds so they can try growing their own giant next year.

After a long season spent growing huge fruits and vegetables, gardeners look forward to some after-the-contest amusement. It’s almost as if giant vegetables want us to find ways to play with our food.

children run toward smashed pumpkin

Running toward the wreckage to gather seeds for next year’s competition. Photo courtesy of the author


Jodi Torpey

Jodi Torpey, author of Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening, is a garden writer, an award-winning gardener, a Craftsy online gardening instructor, and the founder and editor-in-chief… See Bio

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