How do you grow an 800-pound squash? 'Keep it watered'

11-year-old Pittsfield resident's giant squash part of Harvest Festival's intrigue

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PITTSFIELD — There will be goats and ukuleles, balloons and bubbles, and one massive squash.

This weekend's Harvest Festival at Berkshire Botanical Garden will display Emma Goetze Phillips' nearly 800-pound squash, which took home the top prize in one of The Big E's giant pumpkin and squash competition divisions. The 11-year-old Pittsfield resident was excited by her triumph, but she is also accustomed to success.

"It felt really awesome, and I'm not trying to brag, but it's my fifth year in a row winning," Emma said.

Previously, she had won for pumpkins, including one that weighed 1,089 pounds. That was about 650 pounds less than the one her grandfather, Joe Goetze, and several others were hoisting via pulley system Saturday morning in his garden. For decades, Goetze has been growing multiple pumpkins every year and bringing them to various competitions, often borrowing dump trucks to transport them. The 1,743-pounder (unofficially) was heading for a contest in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Goetze emphasized that the basics are vital to growing large pumpkins and squash.

"Keep it pruned, keep it watered," Goetze said, adding that he uses pesticides and fungicides.

He reserves a patch of his growing space for Emma to cultivate one annually. She began growing her squash in May, tending to it every week. Ultimately, the giant pumpkins and squash aren't for eating. The Red Lion Inn usually hosts a couple on its porch as Halloween approaches, and Emma has brought her winners to Harvest Festival before. In the past, festivalgoers have guessed the pumpkins' weights. Goetze said that they may not hold that contest this year due to various Facebook posts publicizing the squash's weight. Still, Emma is looking forward to Harvest Festival. It has become part of her annual victory celebration.

"I love winning," she said.

In addition to presenting Emma's squash, the festival will feature a market, plant sales, hay rides and chuckin' pumpkins, in which participants attempt to toss a pumpkin through a hole. Harvest Festival is more than just an annual homage to the fruits of this region's soil, though. There will be animal-centric activities: "Harvey, The Mini Pig" meet-and-greets, goat-petting and pony rides. There will be music: Saturday's lineup touts, among others, Andy Kelly's Jazz Ambassadors at 11 a.m., The Church Ladies at noon and Jack Waldheim at 4 p.m., and Sunday opens with The Berkshire Ramblers at 11 a.m. before Moonshine Holler at noon. Others will take the stage. And there will be education: For example, Berkshire Botanical Garden Director of Education Chris Wellens will lead cheese making, beekeeping and cider making workshops on Saturday at 1 , 2 and 3 p.m. Saturday. (Author Ron Kujawski's garlic-growing talk kicks things off at 11 a.m.) Sunday's slate includes heirloom apple-tasting at 11 a.m. with Berkshire Botanical Garden Education Coordinator Bridgette Stone, and lunch box snacks and fruit leathers with Stone at 3 p.m.

The workshops and demonstrations are free, as are many of the children's activities. Tickets and other paid-for offerings benefit Berkshire Botanical Garden's horticulture and education programs, according to the institution's website.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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