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Roland Pumpkin Fair crowns record-breaking winner

Emily Distefano

Charlie Bernstrom celebrated his Roland Pumpkin Fair victory with his wife Mallory, daughter Briar and the 1,498.5 pound fruit that broke the previous record for heaviest pumpkin by almost 120 pounds. Along with the fame, the title came with a $1,500 prize presented by a representative of the prize's sponsor, Bud McKnight Seeds. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Charlie Bernstrom celebrated his Roland Pumpkin Fair victory with his wife Mallory, daughter Briar and the 1,498.5 pound fruit that broke the previous record for heaviest pumpkin by almost 120 pounds. Along with the fame, the title came with a $1,500 prize presented by a representative of the prize's sponsor, Bud McKnight Seeds. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

The heaviest pumpkin ever to be recorded in Manitoban history took the crown at this year's Roland Pumpkin Fair.

Charlie Bernstrom of Lancaster Minn. squashed the previous provincial record with a 1498.5 pound monster at the weigh-off in Roland this morning.

There were gasps from the crowd as the winning gourd was placed on the scale and the numbers began to climb.

"It was nice to get it on the scale and then whatever happens happens, and it happened to be good," Berstrom said after the event.

Bernstrom's wife Mallory said it was exciting to see her husband win.

"It's a lot of time for him away from home, but I guess him winning makes it all worth it," she said. "It's pretty exciting to see him so happy doing something he really enjoys to do."

The couple's young daughter Briar gets involved in her dad's hobby too, sitting on the pumpkins for growth photos and helping cover up the fruit in the evenings.

The family lives around an hour and a half away from Roland, so just getting the entry to the weigh-off in one piece was a huge endeavour. Besides the risk of sliding around or falling, pumpkins have been known to crack in transit.

"We had to stop like five times for the straps holding it down - they kept falling off," Bernstrom said.

Bernstrom has been growing giant pumpkins for five years now. He won first place at the Roland Pumkin Fair in 2014 with a 1297.2 pound gourd, but this season he tried what he called "spoon feeding" to increase the size.

"This year I got a couple of water tanks and I'd mix the fertilizer in there," he said. "So every day they were getting fertilizer and lots of water."

For four plants, he used 400 to 500 gallons of water each day.

But even with all that extra H2O, the final result was a bit of a shock.

Growers often measure their gourds before the fair using a formula to estimate the weight, and Bernstrom thought his entry would weigh in around 1400 pounds.

His advice to aspiring growers is to get involved with the giant pumpkin community.

"Give [the pumpkins] lots of care and if you have questions ask people, because everyone will be willing to help," he said. "I've never met a rude pumpkin grower."

After pulverizing the record, the winning pumpkin has some literal smashing in its future.

Bernstrom said the fruit will be put to good use raising funds for children's books in his hometown.

"My wife's on the literacy council," he said. "We're going to lift [the pumpkin] up on a crane from 80 feet and drop it onto a minivan. I have another one at home that's going to be dropped onto a big swimming pool."

And Bernstrom's gourd was actually one of two to beat the record, which has been sitting at 1379.5 pounds since 2011.

Coming in second place, Schanzenfeld grower Henry Banman - the previous record-holder - tipped the scales with a 1474.5 pound entry.

Banman joked that he can still say he's the Manitoban champion.

"My aim was always since 2011 that I could beat that record, and I beat that record," he said.

He also used more water this year, around 300 gallons per plant every other day.

Banman plans to save the seeds and attempt an even bigger pumpkin next year.

"That's what the idea is always," he said.

Chair of the weigh-off committee Derek Baschuk said it was great to host the record-breaking event.

"To any time beat a record that has been there for a number of years, it's always great not just for the individual that grew it but for the fair itself," he said.

But he too is looking forward to bigger and better results in the years to come.

"We always say better it, every year," Baschuk said. "Whether it's looking at the world record or our local fair, year to year improvement is pretty standard in this type of contest."

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edistefano@postmedia.com