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Murrayville man grows hundreds of pounds of pumpkins
Mike Nepereny's backyard full of gourds
0924PUMPKIN 1
Mike Nepereny loves growing pumpkins. The former Illinois resident said he thinks the large fruit is more celebrated in the North than in Murrayville, where he has started a pumpkin patch.

How to pick your pumpkin:

The biggest factor in selecting a pumpkin should be the kind of carving you want to do. With that in mind, however, keep an eye out for certain traits:

* Look for an un-gouged and blemish-free pumpkin. Gouges invite rotting and pests.

* Check for soft spots. If it is a little soft, it’s on its way to rotting. Pick a pumpkin with a nice hard body that does not give when you press it gently.

* Sit it on a flat surface to check stability. Check which side is the “bottom” — which isn’t always the side opposite the stem.

* If possible, get pumpkins locally. But if you do buy a pumpkin from a bin at a store or grocer, pay extra attention to the details above.

* Pick a pumpkin based on what you want to carve into it. If you’ve got a pattern for a curled-up dragon, make sure you get a wide-and-fat enough pumpkin to accommodate it.

How to preserve your pumpkin:

If you want to preserve your pumpkin, do two critical things.

* After carving the pumpkin, give it a solid misting with a bleach-based spray such as Clorox Cleanup with Bleach or mix your own mild bleach mixture at home. Then mist it daily with the bleach cleaner to kill off anything that might grow on it.

* If the pumpkins start to look wilted, fill up a large bucket, bin, or bath tub with cold water and throw in a couple tablespoons of bleach. Soak the pumpkins in cold water overnight to rehydrate them and make them nice and firm.

Source: LifeHacker

Mike Nepereny is already planting seeds for his retirement.

Pumpkin seeds, to be exact.

When the Murrayville resident ends his career as a writer of bank software, he plans on satisfying a lifelong dream and opening a pumpkin patch.

“I just love pumpkins,” he said.

So he’s started the groundwork, sowing about 150 pumpkin plants — 30 of which are giant pumpkins and 120 that are smaller.

“I do it just for the fun of it,” Nepereny said. “I love watching them pop up.”

His backyard displays orange almost as far as the eye can see, with green vines twirling around fall’s favorite gourd, or squash, depending on the specific genus.

The heaping pile of gigantic pumpkins — the heaviest of which weighs 525 pounds — belongs to the squash family, while the row upon row of more average-sized pumpkins are technically gourds.

“I enjoy the genetics behind it all,” he said. “I enjoy the cross-pollinating and coming up with something new. I like to help improve the coloring, the ribbing, the shape.”

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, pumpkins can range in size from less than one pound to more than 1,000 pounds. Typically, pumpkins in the 10- to 25-pound range are used for jack-o’-lanterns and can be used for processing pumpkin foods.

Pumpkins weighing more than 25 pounds are called giant pumpkins. While they typically range between 25 to 75 pounds, Nepereny’s personal best was a 679-pound giant pumpkin.

“I just love the big ones,” he said.

Nepereny said he found his love of pumpkins as a child in Illinois.

“I have fond memories of Halloween,” he said. “It always involved pumpkins, and we used to celebrate extensively. I feel that it’s something that’s more celebrated up North than it is down here. In Illinois, there are pumpkins everywhere.”

Statistics back his theory.

According to the AgMRC, 90 percent of the 12.4 million pumpkins grown in America are raised in a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Ill.

Morton, Ill. — a town near where Nepereny grew up — is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. It is also home to Libby’s pumpkin processing plant and cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin products.

For all of his love of pumpkins, Nepereny said he doesn’t cook much with them.

“Although I do like pumpkin ale,” he said.

Instead, he delights in sharing his passion. Only a week ago, he loaded his pickup truck and distributed pumpkins to all of the neighbors on his street.

“I just love seeing the pumpkins lining the road,” he said.

And it’s a sight he says will never grow old.

“I’m definitely going to be doing this for a long time,” he said.