My gourd, the size of these pumpkins!

Burlington elementary students participate in pumpkin-growing contest

Burlington Public Schools elementary students certainly gave ‘em “pumpkin” to talk about.

After Burlington elementary students brought home pumpkin seeds and a greenhouse growing kit from the Burlington Science Center last academic year, they watched the plants transform just in time for the recently-held pumpkin-growing contest this year - which yielded the 1st-place winning pumpkin weighing 116 pounds, grown by Memorial Elementary student AJ DiRocco.

Wendy Pavlicek, director of the Burlington Science Center, said every other year, the center holds a plant growing contest for the district’s youngest students. Each student plants the seeds, watches the plant sprout, then takes a kit home to plant the crop outdoors, she said.

“Gardening connects students physically and mentally to the Earth and nature … it helps them to learn and take part of the process in where their food comes from,” Pavlicek said.

While students tend to the pumpkins and track their progress, Pavlicek said, they’re also learning about the life cycle of plants, how the crops are affected by temperature and weather, how pollination is essential for the plant to reproduce, and about insects and other animals that affect the growth of the pumpkin.

The average weight of the pumpkins entered in the contest this year weighed between 20 and 40 pounds, Pavlicek said, and the following students had the “top five” heaviest pumpkins:

•First-place: AJ DiRocco from Memorial Elementary School with a pumpkin weighing 116 pounds

•Second-place: Shayla Kocur from Pine Glen Elementary with a pumpkin weighing 87.5 pounds

•Third-place: Sara Milne from Memorial School Elementary with a pumpkin weighing 75 pounds

•Fourth-place: Branin Weymouth from Francis Wyman Elementary with a pumpkin weighing 68 pounds

•Fifth-place: Emily Milne from Memorial Elementary with a pumpkin weighing 63 pounds

All contest participants will receive an "honorable gardener" certificate and goody bag of prizes, Pavlicek said. All pumpkins were weighed this fall at the Burlington Post Office, and students received stamps from the post office to make their pumpkin weight entry official. The pumpkin cut-off “weigh date” was Friday, Sept. 28, Pavlicek said, and students were asked to take photos of themselves with their pumpkins.

Pavlicek said as the pumpkins grew over time, students and their families discussed how the early, dry summer and wet fall affected the crops, how some seeds grew into flower-bearing plants but did not bear fruit like pumpkins, and how large the vines were that grew from the pumpkins.

Beyond a scientific lesson in hands-on learning, Pavlicek said, the contest served as a bonding experience.

She said, “One of the greatest things about these contests is the connection between the younger generations and the older generations. Lots of students grow their plants with their family or grandparents. I hear stories of students walking to their grandparents house every day, or the special moments with ‘Papa Charlie’ or ‘Nana’ while tending to their plants. Gardening connects students and humans to the Earth and nature.”