Award-winning pumpkin grown with engineering

Caleb Otto used his engineering background in NorthWind Technical Services’ pumpkin growing contest with an award-winning pumpkin that weighed almost 800 pounds. Research, formulas, calculations, and automation helped.

By McKenzie Burns, CFE Media October 31, 2018

When the engineers at NorthWind Technical Services, a control system integrator, heard the local church was hosting a pumpkin growing contest, they became curious. What was it like to grow such a massive pumpkin and what did it take to grow one? After the rules were set, the pumpkin growing contest began in May 2018 and the engineers started to learn.

After seeing successful pumpkins in the past, the engineers had no doubt they would acquire the same success. Many hopefuls dreamed of harvesting pumpkins over 100 pounds. As it turned out, most pumpkins reached around 50 pounds-except for one. Caleb Otto, director of project engineering at NorthWind, ended up growing a contest-winning pumpkin in his vegetable garden that reached 12 feet, 8 inches in diameter, 4 ft in height, and weighed in at an impressive 798 pounds. It was a feat that had even the most experienced growers in disbelief; many had invested in greenhouses and additional acreage used specifically for their endeavors.

As expected, growing a pumpkin so monstrous cannot be done without proper preparation. Otto attributes his success not only to the preliminary research, but to his engineering background as well. As a Kansas State University alum, Otto remembered the research conducted by the university’s agricultural department on how to grow above-average vegetables. This research validated what he heard from other pumpkin growers, most notably Dick Wallace, who grew North America’s largest pumpkin in 2016.

Using Wallace’s advice-genetics, water, and sunlight-Otto purchased high-quality seeds with special genetics from a two-time record holder in Rhode Island. He then created a formula to estimate the weight of the pumpkin within +/- 5%. This formula helped calculate how much fertilizer to use and the ideal water consumption. To help with the latter, Caleb created an automatic watering system. The surface area of the leaves was also calculated to find the right amount of sunlight needed to produce the correct amount of photosynthesis.

Otto’s engineering integrity and insight led him on the path to great success as a giant pumpkin grower.