Life in Community

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Life in Community

Boy with Down Syndrome Grows a UK Champion Pumpkin

October 12, 2016 by


It started in the winter of 2015 at the Beech Grove Bruderhof, a Christian community in Kent, England, that has its own school. Ben, a student of mine with Down syndrome, wanted to grow a prize-winning pumpkin. The year before, our class had won second place at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Harvest Festival Show in London, but we knew we could do better than that.

So all through the damp, chilly English winter, Ben and his friends turned a massive compost pile preparing the “black gold” that is the key to pumpkin growing.

Our friend, UK giant pumpkin record holder Ian Paton, mailed us some prize seeds, and on May 1, Ben and his school friends Zack and Danny soaked and planted them. By mid-May the plants were transferred to the prepared pumpkin patch where they were kept warm during the cold nights by candles and a protective tent. We nurtured the growing plant with kelp and compost tea.

On June 28 we pollinated the first pumpkin flower and by July 31 the pumpkin already weighed 212 lbs (96 kg). In the month of August it grew 30 lbs a day and the interest around the Bruderhof community was growing almost as fast as the pumpkin. Every day Ben had offers to help weed and water it.

The month of August was almost rain-free, and the pumpkin required 600 gallons of water per week to continue its meteoric growth. By early September it weighed over 1000 lbs (455 kg); all Ben could say was, “It’s GINORMOUS!”

October 1 was the exciting day of harvest and final weighing. We cut the vine, lifted the pumpkin carefully with a forklift, and held our breath as we checked underneath for rats and rot. Not to worry – it was rock solid!

Then the big moment: lowering the pumpkin onto a scale. At 1258 lbs (571 kg) we were pretty sure we had a winner. Two days later we were off once again to the prestigious RHS show in London where the official weight of 1248 lbs (566kg) was registered and the first-place red ribbon – with a £1000 prize – was ours! After photo ops and interviews, Ben took his massive pumpkin back to Beech Grove Bruderhof, where we’ll soon start turning the compost for next year’s giant.


About the author

Mario Meier

Mario Meier

Mario Meier and his wife, Robin, are parents of four grown children, and grandparents of two. They live at the Rondout...

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  • What a brilliant achievement. Congratulations Ben, I look forward to seeing next years but after second place in 2015 and first in 2016 I am sure that others will be chasing your title so you will have to work even harder. Well done. Bob

    Bob Macfarlane
  • So beautiful - I laughed and cried at the same time, watching Ben's joy. So refreshing in this often ugly world.. God bless you all at Beech Grove.

  • It is always importand to let our disabled citizens participate the society. This encourages them to live and be happy. It is very nice article that , Ben tried to grow a plant and he felt that he was one of person in society. We all should help them to be part of society. Not to pitty them but to let them to participate. Congragulation Ben and Thanks Mario.

    metin erdem, Teacher, DS-Developmental Specialist