MILTON - Robert Cyrus said there is no secret to growing pumpkins that weigh more than 1,500 pounds. It just takes the right kind of seeds, the most nutrient-rich soil available and hundreds of hours of labor and attention.

Cyrus, 68, of Fort Gay, won the award for heaviest pumpkin at the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton last weekend, smashing a record he had set the year before.

He showed off the winning pumpkin, officially weighing 1,583.5 pounds, to spectators at the festival on Saturday. He beamed with pride overlooking the massive squash plant and divulged how he was able to do it, though it wasn't easy.

The trick to growing big pumpkins is to perform soil tests in the spring and determine what nutrients are missing. It also helps to have seeds known to produce big pumpkins.

"The soil test will tell you what needs done, but you don't want to overdo it," he said. "You can add some fertilizer for filler or to get the soil loosened up."

Cyrus said he also battles against bad weather, pests and natural diseases affecting the pumpkins.

Once they start growing, the pumpkins require daily attention and rigorous vine pruning to get them to massive sizes. Cyrus said he covers his pumpkins in a wind-resistance tarp surrounded by an electric fence to keep deer and other animals away.

He had started out with three pumpkins in the spring, but one died from a stem disease and another one he sold off.

The pumpkin that won will be auctioned off Sunday, with proceeds benefiting the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival's Scholarship Fund. The same pumpkin won a competition in Elkin, N.C., at the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival in September.

"They said they never seen any pumpkin that big before," Cyrus said of the pumpkin, which also shattered a North Carolina record.

Cyrus is West Virginia's official title holder, having surpassed his winning pumpkin last year that weighed approximately 1,421.5 pounds.

Although it is labor-intensive, Cyrus said pumpkin growing remains a hobby and a way to connect with his four grandchildren. They spend about as much time tending to the pumpkins as he does, he said.

"There's no secret to growing pumpkins," he said. "You just got to lay your phone down, turn off the TV and spend time outdoors for a while."

Last year, his 6-year-old grandson, Max Shilot, followed in his footsteps and entered a pumpkin into the competition. He came in second place to his grandpa with a pumpkin weighing approximately 1,064 pounds.

Cyrus said he would like to see West Virginia become an official pumpkin weigh-off destination with the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the national authority on giant pumpkin growing. Members of the commonwealth officially weigh the pumpkins and check them for quality. Only the best pumpkins are considered for official titles.

"Milton would be the ideal place to start one because I've never seen a pumpkin festival this good before," he said.

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