Looks like Tom McIlvaine has gotten the hang of growing monster pumpkins. His latest weighs in at a whopping 1,148 pounds.
McIlvaine, 51, of St. Charles, said he set a personal record this season with the Atlantic Giant, which grew at a rate of about 34 pounds a day over the summer and early fall.
"I guess I just picked the right seed and the right chemical for it to germinate," he said. "I never had a pumpkin grow this much in such a short amount of time."
Inspired by an entry the Guinness Book of World Records, McIlvaine made pumpkin-growing his hobby 14 years ago. His first pumpkin came in around 50 pounds, but others grew substantially larger each year as McIlvaine tweaked his methods.
"I didn't know much about it until I got a couple books on how to grow monster pumpkins," he said. "It takes time. A lot of it depends on the weather and the right seeds."
McIlvaine said he spends $500 to $600 on fertilizer each season and often buys seeds that came from award-winning pumpkins elsewhere in the country. He usually plants in July and then works 40 hours or more a week tending to the seedling until it is fully grown.
The work entails keeping the soil around the planting moist and aerated to accommodate its roots and vines, which can grow from a few inches to several feet in a single day, and constant trimming, McIlvaine said.
"It's like a full-time job," he said. "You have to stay ahead of it."
Last year, McIlvaine carved a 709-pound pumpkin he'd grown into a gargoyle Jack-O-Lantern, but he said the work was difficult and took four or five days because it was tough to keep it standing upright.
Inside, he said, giant pumpkins are "hard and stringy," sometimes with a little bit of water. And "hopefully, there's a lot of seeds in there," he said.
This year's pumpkin, which has a 171-inch circumference, took third place in the statewide Great Pumpkin Weigh Off in Prairieview and will be featured in an Oct. 25 parade in Sycamore.
Otherwise it will be on display for the rest of the season at McIlvane's real source of employment: Wasco Nursery & Garden Center on Route 64 in Campton Hills. He has worked there since he was 16 and is assistant foreman.
McIlvaine said he hopes to one day set a record for the world's largest pumpkin, a title he says is held by an Ohio grower who produced 1,725-pounder this year.