John grows a gourd champ for Giant Pumpkin Festival

John Leadbeatter tends the pumpkin patch at Rukenvale.

Susanna Freymark

John Leadbeatter has been growing giant pumpkins for so long he can’t remember when he started.

He has several pumpkin patches in his garden in Rukenvale.

Each in a different spot to increase the chances of growing the heaviest pumpkin to enter at the Summerland Giant Pumpkin and Watermelon Festival in Kyogle in January.

John trims the vines as they spread, maximising the nutrients going into the strongest vine and into the best pumpkin.

Once the pumpkins are established he covers the whole patch with netting to protect them from too much sun.

The pumpkin vines.

One threat to the success of a giant pumpkin is too much or too little moisture. If the pumpkin is too moist as it grows it can collapse into itself as it gets bigger.

John has a pile of nutrients ready to spread on the pumpkin patch.

He has won the festival title a few times.

He jokes that he only wins when Dale Oliver doesn’t enter.

Dale, from Knockrow, has grown the largest pumpkin ever at the festival weighing in 867kg at the 2021 Giant Pumpkin and Watermelon Festival. It beat his previous record for Australia’s heaviest pumpkin of 743kg.

Dale Oliver’s winning pumpkin in 2021.

Every year, the festival in Kyogle grows in popularity. Hundreds of people come to town for the weighing of the pumpkins and for all the other events.

In January the vintage train rides are on, there is an art comp and woodworking comp. Pubs and cafes create pumpkin and watermelon specific menus items and everyone celebrates the giant vegetables

The Summerland Giant Pumpkin and Watermelon Festival is on January 20.

There are several categories for prizes of oddly shaped vegetables. Check out the festival Facebook page to find out more.

Weighing the pumpkins in Kyogle in 2023. Photos: Susanna Freymark

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