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Pumpkin invasion

Only a personality as large as Rick Mercer's could have overshadowed the annual appearance of giant pumpkins and other massive vegetables at Hugli's Blueberry Ranch.

The well-known Canadian comedian, the star of The Rick Mercer Report since 2004, was here for the weekend taping a segment of his television show, covering both the giant pumpkin weigh-off on Saturday, and taking part in the fourth annual Giant Pumpkin Boat Races Sunday afternoon.

Large crowds followed Mercer and his television crew around the Laurentian Valley Township property, managing to getting the entertainer's autograph and speaking to him briefly as he did his rounds.

During the Sunday pumpkin boat races, and teamed up with Pembroke kayaker and Olympian Sarah Boudens, Mercer seemed to take particular delight in ramming the pumpkin craft piloted by MP Cheryl Gallant, who has been a target of his sharp wit from time to time.

Nearing the finish line, he used his paddle to try and shove the MP's watercraft under, although to be fair, for much of the race the waterline of her vessel was barely above the surface.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Gallant managed to finish just behind the comedian and the Olympic kayaker, and kept her head above water, unlike the media team of Travis D'Aoust of MyFM and Shawn Behnke of Cogeco Cable 12.

Their rather rotten pumpkin gave up the ghost during the final approach, taking on water, then overturning.

The two valiantly pushed their vegetable vessel to shore, earning the cheers of the crowd.

The race itself was won by champion kayaker Nicole Whiting, who left everyone else in the dust with her skillful paddling and navigation of her pumpkin.

Afterwards, she told the crowd she was nervous at first, as her boat didn't seem too stable, but once she figured out how to balance in it, everything worked out.

She admitted the best part was beating Mercer.

MPP John Yakabuski was scheduled to enter the race as well, but there wasn't enough pumpkin shells to allow him to do so. He and MP Gallant flipped for it, allowing him to remain dry.

While the crowds were kept amused, to the serious practitioner of extreme gardening, an appearance by a Canadian broadcast celebrity was small potatoes compared to the excitement of breaking world records, and getting the acknowledgement of one's peers.

For the fourth year, Hugli's hosted the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Sanctioned Giant Pumpkin and Vegetable Weigh-off.

This makes the ranch one of

a number of sites around the world to hold a sanctioned competition. The weigh-off here attracts growers from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.

This year, the centre of the excitement among the elite of giant vegetables resided on Shawville resident Todd Kline, who not only won the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin category with his first place entry weighing 1,145 pounds, but broke a world record for growing the biggest long gourd, which measured 128.56 inches.

Mr. Kline isn't ready to boast just yet. His gourd is just an inch more than the previous record, and the season and weigh-off events aren't done yet.

"It would be nice to have this record in Canada," he said, "but for now, I'll quietly enjoy this.

"I'll brag at the end of the season."

Brant Timm of Pembroke, who also serves as the grower's site representative with the GPC, knows of world records, holding one himself for the largest squash earned in 2006. It weighed 1,131 pounds.

This year, the growing season wasn't as kind to him. There were no record holders, although he did place first with a 3.59 pound tomato, third for the tallest stalk of corn, at 15 feet, 9.25 inches, and second place for a 760-pound true green squash.

"I look at this as the Olympics of gardening," he said, stating growing these vegetables is a major commitment, one which can tie ta person down, but he loves doing.

Mr. Timm said these sanctioned events mean local growers are competing against the world. It is also a time for them to get together and chat face to face with other growers.

"That's what I love to do too, go to other weigh-offs," he said, noting there are three more coming up in Barrie, Port Elgin and Wellington.

The results of the 2009 weigh-off are as follows:

In the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin category, in first was Todd Kline with a 1,145 pound pumpkin, John Vincent was second with a 1,127 pounder, third was Art Johnston and John Butler with a 1,091-pound pumpkin, in fourth was Phil Joynson with a 1,058.5- pound pumpkin, in fifth was Jim Bryson with a 989.5 pound entry, in sixth was Brandon Timm with a 857-pound pumpkin, in seventh place is Glenn and Meagan Cheam with a 818.5-pound pumpkin, in eighth was Keith Maclellan with a 755.5-pumpkin, in ninth was Dave Dudley with a 740-pound pumpkin, in 10th was Justin Barr with a 480-pound pumpkin, Brian Hugli placed 11th with a 418-pounder, and finishing 12th place was Gavin Grusnick with a 267-pound pumpkin.

In the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, for competitors under 16, Connor Stencil was first with a 173.5- pound pumpkin, Samantha Van Bommel was second with a 153.5- pound pumpkin and Nicholas Van Bommel was third with a 117.5- pound pumpkin.

In the field pumpkin category, Heidi Hugli placed first with a 55.5- pound pumpkin, while Wil Hugli was second with a 41-pound pumpkin.

In the True Green Squash category, Art Johnston and John Butler placed first with their 961-pound squash, in second was Brant Timm with his 760-pound squash, in third place was Brandon Timm with a 711- pound squash and Justin Barr was in fourth with a 199-pound squash.

In the long gourd category, Todd Kline as the top with a 128.56-inch gourd, the new world record, Art Johnston and John Butler were second with 122.88 inch gourd, Al Eaton and John Vincent tied for third with 114 inch gourds, fourth was Fred Hain with a 109.56 inch gourd, in fifth was Tony El- Kassis with a 101.31 inch gourd, and in sixth place was Glenn and Meagan Cheam with a gourd of 88.63 inches.

In giant watermelon results, placing first was John Vincent with a 62.5- pound melon, in second was Brady and Ethan Timm, with a 57.5-pound watermelon, and in third was Justin Barr with a 19- pounder.

For the tallest corn, Art Johnston and John Butler placed first with a stalk 21 feet, 6.25 inches long, in second was Brandon Timm with a 17 foot, 5.75 inch corn stalk, and in third was Brant Timm with a 15 foot, 9.25 inch corm stalk.

In the tomato category, Brant Timm was first with one 3.59 pounds, in second was Glenn and Meagan Cheam with a 2.65-pound tomato, in third was Justin Barr with a 1.99-pound tomato and Phil Joynson was fourth with a 1.88-pound tomato. Art Johnston and John Butler displayed a sunflower which reached 18 feet, 9.25 inches.

Keith Maclellan received the 209 Howard Dill Award for the prettiest pumpkin.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer reporter



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