This Utah man is living the dream — the dream of growing giant pumpkins

Lord of the gourds • Matt McConkie figures his entry for Saturday’s 12th Annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off is between 1,900-2,000 pounds.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matt McConkie, in his Washington Terrace greenhouse, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, set the Utah state record in 2014 with a pumpkin that weighed 1,817 pounds. He expects this one will be between 1,900-2,000.

Matt McConkie has been obsessed with giant pumpkins since the first time he saw one.

“It goes as far back as I can remember. I saw them as a kid, and they always put a giant smile on my face,” McConkie said. “I knew I wanted to grow giant pumpkins before I even knew it was really a thing.”

That obsession has only, well, grown over the years.

The 39-year-old resident of Mountain Green set the Utah state record in 2014 by growing a pumpkin that tipped the scales at 1,817 pounds. He figures that at the 12th Annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi this Saturday, he’ll have that number beat.

“This one, I expect, will weigh in somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000 pounds,” McConkie said. “We take different measurements on the pumpkins, we have charts and dimensions that translate into an estimated weight. The vast majority of times, it’s within 5-10 percent. It can go either way. But this pumpkin is substantially bigger than that one was.”

McConkie isn’t a farmer by trade — he’s a commercial real estate broker who simply counts farming and pumpkin-growing as hobbies.

“Giant pumpkin-growing is a passion of mine,” he notes with a laugh.

It’s one he decided to pursue competitively nine years ago.

He read up all he could on the subject, and decided to give it a go on a pumpkin patch he bought in South Ogden, where he says the weather is a bit more conducive.

“Growing a giant pumpkin is an absolute science. It takes a ton of work, a ton of study. The first one I grew was in 2008, and it was 286 pounds,” he recalled. “Between then and now, I’ve had a lot of good friends show me the ropes.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matt McConkie has grown a nearly 2,000 pound pumpkin.

These days, he’s got a well-honed process. He takes soil samples in the spring and sends them to a lab to see what nutrition is lacking. Then he calls up Wild Valley Farms, which “mixes a special kind of compost — wood shavings mixed with cow manure, and it’s composted over years. That provides most of the nutrition for these pumpkins. I bring it in by the dump truck.”

During peak growth, the pumpkin will gain about 50 pounds a day. He said most pumpkins will grow for about 100 days, though this one made it to 115 before its progress stopped.

The logistics of getting it from South Ogden to Lehi for the weigh-in are sizable, as well. He rents a special all-terrain lift, which can hoist up to 5,000 pounds, attaches some straps, lifts it, sets it on a pallet, then moves it around with forklifts.

“Getting it out of the patch can be very nerve-wracking,” McConkie said. “You obviously need to be careful not to break it. You’re also hoping the bottom hasn’t rotted from it sitting on the ground, which would disqualify it. Finally, I’ll put it on a flatbed trailer and drive it down I-15, real nice and slow. You get some great looks from people while you’re rolling down the road.”

There are a couple details, however, he makes it a point not to know.

“There are two things I try not to keep track of on purpose: How much does it cost, and how much time does it take,” McConkie said. “I don’t want to know either of those! It’s ignorance by choice, I guess.”

Meanwhile, he fully understands that his hobby is something most people won’t, in fact, understand.

But there’s not really a whole lot to it, he adds. His motivations are pure and simple.

“I’m not trying to beat anyone else, I just try to do better than myself the last time,” he said. “I just love doing it. I love being out there in the soil, working, coming up with a strategy and plan, being out in the sun. I love everything about it.”

And he’ll love it even more this Saturday, he hopes, if all goes according to plan.

“We’ll put it on the scales and see how it goes,” he said.