As local youth scour farmstands to pick the perfect pumpkin to take home, they may think they’ve found the big one – that is, until they venture down Marvin Avenue in Los Altos to the Kasso house.
Pumpkin envy may set in as their jaws drop in awe at gourds so large they could fit the bill as Cinderella’s coach.
Growing big pumpkins – tipping the scale at 686 pounds this year – is a labor of love for Suzanne and Chris Kasso and their two children.
“We like to garden and we like to experiment, so growing big pumpkins is the best of both worlds,” Suzanne said. “We also like to tinker and troubleshoot and learn and grow. It sets a good example for the kids.”
At their fourth weigh-in at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival Oct. 14, the couple’s pumpkins were dwarfed by a 1,985-pounder, but they took home prizes in the the Most Beautiful category.
After their weigh-in, the family stopped by Covington School as it adjourned to let their children share their giant pumpkins and answer classmates’ questions.
The Kassos plant big pumpkins along the edge of their driveway, where neighbors stop to pose for photos in Halloween costumes and marvel at how large the giants are until Thanksgiving, when the family painstakingly harvests seeds and saws the pumpkins into smaller pieces for recycling in their compost pile. The family then feeds the soil that will birth next year’s pumpkins.
The Kassos said they didn’t really know what they were doing when they started their growing tradition nearly 10 years ago.
“We got a 60-pounder and thought, ‘Wow, this is the biggest one we’ve seen,’” said Suzanne of their initial attempt.
Shortly after, they enrolled in a class hosted by the Los Altos Hills Parks and Recreation Committee and realized that there was both a science and an art to growing big pumpkins. Simply popping a seed from any garden store into unprepared soil wouldn’t generate the magic needed to produce large pumpkins.
Prepping for pumpkins
The Kassos said their hobby requires year-round attention, starting from the day after they pluck the pumpkins from their vines.
“As soon as we move this guy out, we begin prepping for next year,” said Chris of what happens behind the scenes. “You can have good seeds, but if the soil isn’t good, it’s not going to grow.”
It’s not exactly a trade secret, but the family’s on-site compost pile of chicken and horse manure along with other organic waste is a critical element in their success. Starting in fall, they rototill and fertilize the ground where they grow their pumpkins to prepare the optimal bed.
Then the hard work begins. Germination of the subtropical plants poses challenges. The seeds must be started indoors and kept at a temperature of at least 90 F until they take root. Once the pumpkin plants are transplanted outdoors, vigilance is essential. Chris uses plant cages to protect the tender vegetation from little critters like squirrels. He and Suzanne spend time nearly every day during the early growing season digging trenches, as the plants’ vines seem to grow exponentially. By harvest, the pumpkins’ tentaclelike vines can extend more than 60 feet.
“Every year we learn something new,” Chris said. “Maybe by the time I retire, I’ll be able to grow one that’s 2,000 pounds.”
Kasso Family cultivates pumpkin prowress - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier