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1,048-pound pumpkin tips scales in Commack gardener's favor

Hicks Nurseries held its annual giant pumpkin weigh-off Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 with Commack's Scott Armstrong taking first place with a gourd tipping the scales at more than half a ton. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

The 1,048-pound pumpkin might have been a flop.

The pumpkin grown by Scott Armstrong, a banker from Commack, began as a rare seed in a dirt pot. Some don't make it. One of his pumpkins split open in August when it was 500 pounds.

Yes, pumpkins that grow too fast can explode.

Sunday, pumpkins on forklifts debuted at a weigh-off at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, capping a frantic summer for gardeners who can spend up to two hours a day tending to their giant gourds.

Nels Freund-Nelson, 68, a retired carpenter with a yellow-colored pumpkin, challenged Armstrong, 42, whose own orange creation looked more familiar. Armstrong had hoped that his pumpkin would again weigh more than a grand -- and it did.

In the end, Scott Armstrong's pumpkin edged out the 919-pounder from Freund-Nelson, of Northport.

Armstrong worked with organizers to launch the contest in 2003. "We started it to give home gardeners the opportunity to show off the amazing pumpkins they grow at home," said Karen Musgrave, marketing and educational specialist for Hicks Nurseries.

For growers of giant pumpkins -- many are amateurs and not farmers -- October is the playoffs, the end of a long season of gritty work.

Throughout the year, growers of giant pumpkins all over the United States swap "seeds like baseball cards," Armstrong said.

Armstrong and Freund-Nelson were the only competitors this year -- down from five in years past -- and the two help each other out over the summer. Armstrong even emceed this year's weigh-off.

Freund-Nelson has grown pumpkins for the event since 2007, when his wife entered her first pumpkin, which was 964 pounds.

In 2007, Armstrong spotted a pumpkin growing at Freund-Nelson's home, and asked him to enter the competition. The pumpkin was grown by his wife, Carolyn Freund-Nelson, who was battling cancer. She died in 2008, several months after the competition.

Nels Freund-Nelson said he has attempted to compete every year since, to honor his wife's memory.

"My wife could grow anything," Freund-Nelson said.

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