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Giant pumpkins are a big deal at LI farms

Maiya Ramos, 5, from Levittown searches for her

Maiya Ramos, 5, from Levittown searches for her perfect pumpkin. Hanks Pumpkintown has everything from pumkin picking, wagon rides, an apple orchard, food, a playground and so much more. (Oct. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Walk through a U-pick pumpkin patch and you may spy a bounder, a pumpkin that's easily over 50 pounds and maybe pushing -- or beyond -- the 100 mark. Say hello to the giants of Long Island.

These bruisers, produced from seeds that have names such as Prizewinner, Atlantic Giant and Big Max, are a labor of love for the farmers who grow them. And they tend to stop customers in their tracks.

"The most common questions people ask when someone buys one are 'What are you going to do with that?' 'How are you going to move it?' or 'Who's going to clean up the mess when they rot?'" says Harry Ludlow of Fairview Farm in Bridgehampton, who has been growing massive pumpkins for more than a decade.

Ludlow and other farmers agree that these oversize orange beauties are somewhat of a status symbol.

"I have customers who come every year because it has become a competition in their neighborhood to see who has the biggest pumpkin in their yard," Ludlow continues. "Or, maybe the person is doing a display in a big way and needs something really big."

How big is really big? Ludlow regularly grows pumpkins that are a scale-straining 200 pounds. And, he seldom has many, if any, left at the end of the season.

IN HIGH DEMAND

Hank's Pumpkintown in Water Mill has a reputation for growing giant pumpkins, so much so that if you don't come early, you may be out of luck for the really big ones. The largest sold so far this year: 176 pounds.

"We had one restaurant owner who just bought three giants," says co-owner Lynne Kraszewski. "You have landscapers who buy them. But we also have homeowners who buy them every year. If you have a really big yard, small pumpkins just get lost."

Last year, Hank's was almost sold out of giant pumpkins by mid-October, as were many others.

"Those who want them, really want them," says Jean Schmitt of Albert H. Schmitt Family Farms in Dix Hills, which has been in the giant pumpkin business for more than 20 years.

When someone buys one, the farm uses a small tractor to transport it directly to the customer's car.

"We have a lot of people who just come and take pictures next to the ones we have up here on tables," Schmitt says. "They're too big to get on the scale, so we sell them based on size . Most people only buy one. Really, one of these is enough."

BRAGGING RIGHTS

Most of Kraszewski's giant buyers are repeat customers.

"They know what they're getting into and come prepared," Kraszewski says of the elaborate process of getting pumpkins out of the field and into their cars.

"We did load one into the front seat of a sports car once," she says. "Most people come in pickups or SUVs, but a 200-pound pumpkin will fit in the empty trunk of a car."

On the other hand, a giant pumpkin can also be a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

"You can tell when the testosterone kicks in," Fairview's Ludlow says. "And, it's usually a guy. He gets it up here and the wife says, 'Why did you get that?' or 'What are we going to do with that?'"

Carve it, of course. After all, it is a pumpkin, just like its more diminutive cousins.

Where to find giants

Albert H. Schmitt Family Farms

6 Bagatelle Rd., Dix Hills (GPS use Huntington Station)

INFO 631-549-1159, schmittsfamilyfarms.com

PUMPKINS $60-$75 each for giants

Fairview Farm

69 Horsemill Lane, Bridgehampton

INFO 631-537-6154, themaize.com

PUMPKINS 70 cents a pound, many are 100 pounds or larger

Fink's Country Farm Fall Festival

6242 Middle Country Rd., Wading River

INFO 631-886-2272, finksfarm.com

PUMPKINS $40-$80 per giant pumpkin (average 50-120 pounds)

Hank's Pumpkintown

240 Montauk Hwy., Watermill

INFO 631-726-4667, hankspumpkintown.com

PUMPKINS 65 cents a pound

Harbes Family Farms

1223 Main Rd., Jamesport; 715 Sound Ave., Mattituck; 5698 Sound Ave., Riverhead

INFO 631-722-2022 (Jamesport), 631-298-0800 (Mattituck), 631-369-1111 (Riverhead), harbesfamilyfarm.com

PUMPKINS 59 cents a pound (giants range 50-150 pounds)

Helen's Pumpkin Farm

1061 Union Ave. and Route 105, Aquebogue

INFO 631-779-2893, helensflowerfarm.com

PUMPKINS 59 cents a pound

Rottkamp's Fox Hollow Farm

2287 Sound Ave., Baiting Hollow

INFO 631-727-1786

PUMPKINS $30 and up for giant pumpkins 50 pounds and heavier

3 TIPS FOR GOING BIG

Strategies for getting that giant pumpkin from field to car to porch:

1. IN THE FIELD

Roll the pumpkin onto a burlap bag or blanket that is at least twice as large as the pumpkin. You'll need two or four people to grab the corners and transport it to a wagon, which most farms provide.

2. AT HOME Freezing temperatures and moisture are the enemies of pumpkins -- and you shouldn't set them straight on cement or the ground, either. A wooden pallet topped with straw is an ideal seat for your pumpkin. If there's going to be a frost, cover it overnight.

3. SAYING GOODBYE

Growers say carved pumpkins last about a week before rotting. Those left intact may hold on longer. Some people leave them out for squirrels and other animals to feed on, others send the remnants to the compost or trash piles.

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