Pumped up for action in Cavan
Pumpkin growers descend on Virginia for Halloween festival
Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30
'Grow big or go home' is the message from pumpkin growing champion Michael Byrne to entrants for next weekend's pumpkin championships in Virginia, Co Cavan.
The 21-year-old, who has just completed his agriculture degree at UCD and is set to pursue a scholarship to complete a Masters there, has a passion for growing the fruit which takes centre stage at Halloween.
Back in 2009, he won the Virginia showpiece along with his twin brother Oisín when they entered a "700 pounder" grown on their parents' farm at Togher, Co Louth.
And Michael now has bigger and grander pumpkin ambitions. He intends go for the double next year in pronto style fashion.
"I'm building a 29ft by 64ft poly tunnel on the home farm at the moment. It will be state of the art and I will be growing two pumpkins for next year's competition.
"It will be costly but I will have the time because I'll be spending less time in Dublin at the university this year.
"Growing pumpkins is like rearing a child. It takes time, love and money," he told the Farming Independent.
"You are never going to be a millionaire growing pumpkins. You just do it for the pure love of it. It's a bit like gambling. You just get hooked on the thing. It becomes an obsession."
In terms of hard labour growing a pumpkin is up there with the proverbial chain gang, says Micheal, who was seven when he was introduced to the big orange fruit by his grandfather .
It's a time-consuming as well as obsessive interest.
'You have to spend at least 20 hours a week keeping an eye on them from spring until autumn. You have to water them every day and get soil tests done and then fertilise them and then you have the fuel costs," says Michael.
"People in the US can spend over $2,000 for pumpkin seeds and then they might not grow for you."
There are about 20 serious pumpkin growers in Ireland, plenty more in England and the continent and a multiplicity of them in the USA.
They convene and share tips and the occasional seed at various international festivals.
Michael expects to pay about €50 for individual seeds to nurture in his new poly-tunnel and he may be lucky enough to pick-up some prize seeds free gratis at the various international pumpkin festivals that are marked up in his diary.
Next stop is the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth festival in Southampton, an event ranked as the pumpkin growers' Olympics.
Michael's passion for pumpkins is infectious.
"They really are alien plants. That's the word I would use to describe them. Their roots are at least six foot long. That's about the size of myself."
So what does the future hold for Michael? "My Ag degree is not like medicine or veterinary where you know what you are doing when you are finished with the studies. I could take up an advisory job or something like that. Who knows?"
Either way, he's firmly focused on regaining his title in Virginia. "I am going to get this poly tunnel up and running and I am going to have a good shot at Virginia next year," he says.