Farm Horizons, November 2007

Norwood Young America man is a garden magician

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Although known to people around the area as Pumpkin Man, a better name for Dean Christopherson of Norwood Young America would be the Garden Magician.

Christopherson, with the help of his wife, Teresa, and three daughters, Morgan, 10, Tristen, 8, and Camden, 6, grew the 990-pound pumpkin that won the Minnesota State Fair’s Giant Pumpkin contest in August. At the end of September, he had other pumpkins in his pumpkin patch that weighed 1,200 pounds and were still growing.

“They will grow 40 pounds every day. They have to grow that much to get that big in the season,” Teresa, said. “I had never seen a giant pumpkin until last year, when we grew our own. We took it to the state fair. Oh my gosh! The cars. I thought we were going to cause a car accident all the way down; people were flipping out! We pulled into a gas station and people had their cell phones and cameras taking pictures of the pumpkin. When we got it to the state fair, we had to weigh it in the cow barn because they did not have a scale big enough at the state fair to weigh the pumpkin.”

Dean began his garden in 2002, when the family moved to their new home on Brand Lake. Teresa’s dad, who is a master organic gardener, gave the family their first tomato plant and was amazed when he saw the size of the fruit that it produced.

All Dean did was put the plant in the ground and left it alone. The plant fell over and continued to grow 7-pound tomatoes.

Dean has also had a green thumb with fruit trees.

“Two years ago, when we bought four or five peach trees, I told him we are throwing our money away. I told him peaches don’t grow in Minnesota,” Teresa said.

Last year, they started getting peaches and this year, they had so many peaches they gave them to the neighbors, and finally had to throw them away.

The pear trees were the same. They grew Bartlett pears weighing 2-pounds.

“We don’t spray them. We don’t treat them. We don’t use pesticides,” Teresa said.

“You don’t have to do anything. You just walk out there and start eating them,” Dean said.

“I located the peach trees through a special company down in Kentucky. They make the trees up anyway you want,” Dean said.

Teresa believes that their fruit trees are producing lots of fruit because Dean does his homework. He finds fruit that can grow in Minnesota. He has learned how easy it is to graft and clone, the proper way of breeding plants, and how to get a seed to be a certain tree by combining it with others.

“I realized how easy it was to get a whole new line of fruit trees that people would enjoy,” Dean said. “People should be able to grow a fruit tree that would carry their family for 80 years.”

Watermelons grown in the Christopherson garden have weighed in at over 100 pounds. He used seed that came from a gentleman in Arkansas that holds a world record for the largest watermelon, weighing in at 268 pounds.

Dean has done some research to find out why his plants seem to do so well. He did discover that his home was built on land that was once a farm that raised hogs and horses and had grown corn and soy beans.

“All peat, and it is endless. It is trace minerals that have been trapped there for years,” Dean said. “The water table – you dig down 12 inches and there is water. It’s perfect for growing plants.”

It’s more than just the soil. Dean seems to understand plants. He has done hours of studying on the Internet about everything that he grows.

A lot of the exploring has been about seeds. When they first planted their garden, they went through catalogs and ordered the seeds.

“It is the same thing that you get in these packs in the grocery store,” Dean said.

Now Dean uses the Internet to order his seeds and gets many of the seeds he uses from all over the world.

He uses half of his garden to grow plants for competition and half to grow his own seeds. Seeds can be auctioned online and some will sell for $25 or more for just one seed, Teresa said.

In their kitchen, lying on top of screens, the Christophersons have a couple of batches of pumpkin and watermelon seeds that are drying and will be used for their garden next year and for other gardeners interested in planting Dean’s seeds.

Currently, Dean is working with a man in South Africa, who is asking him to send a whole line of his seeds to him.

Dean controls the pollination of his plants and takes the best from all of them. He keeps records of everything he does. He watches his plants at night with a flashlight to see when the pistils on the female flower change color.

Then he gets his daughters to help with the pollination of the plants the next morning. He also removes all of the flowers that he does not want to use, not taking any chance that the bees might alter his pollination.

He has also done research on the moon phases and how it affects the plants. The full moon gives the plant energy day and night and it overloads the plant, which sets up the plant for a flowering stage, according to Dean.

Dean has gotten his share of publicity. He has been interviewed by the newspaper, on the radio, and on television.

“We walk around and people say, ‘There’s Pumpkin Man,’ and then they want to know if we use Miracle Gro. We have never touched it,” Teresa said. “People don’t understand. They think that if they can just grow pumpkin seed, it will grow into a monster. They think you just fertilize it, fertilize it, fertilize it, and it turns into this giant pumpkin. That is impossible. They don’t understand that when you start out to grow a giant pumpkin, you need to have the special seed to grow a giant pumpkin.”

Dean likes to have his plants in by May 5 because he wants his plants to have 160 days until harvest time.

For next year’s season, Dean has plans to experiment a little more with a fertilizer that is organic.

“I make up my own fertilizer,” Dean said. “I spray it on the leaves because the ground is so rich. It is hard for me to make the soil any richer. I try to supplement the plants through the leaves.”

Dean does not like to plant his gardens too far ahead because he takes into consideration what the weather is like leading up to the planting season. Over the winter months he will be doing further research on improvements to his garden, as well.

One thing is for sure, next year, Christophersons will have another garden.

“Just to walk outside in your own back yard and pick something. I will be mowing the lawn and drive by a tree and just snag a peach. It is the funnest,” Dean said.

My kids will go and pick tomatoes just like apples,” Teresa said. “That is cool.”

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