This is a tale about a boy and his pumpkins.
Great pumpkins, actually, the kind to which Milan Lukes has devoted his entire summer. The 11-year-old is growing robust pumpkins so he can enter them into pumpkin-growing competitions next month, and that's where the story will end. Where it began, however, and why a child would take on this assignment of time, effort and patience and see it all the way through to market, started five years ago.
"I always liked the colour orange and I was always fascinated by how quickly they grew," Milan said Friday, beaming next to the patch that houses one of his 160-kilogram pumpkin specimens. "It's just amazing. These pumpkins that I've been growing (when I started) were so puny, so that's how I got hooked on the big ones."
Already set in his new pumpkin-growing ways, Milan decided in the winter to move up in weight class, from 35 to 45 kilograms to something a little larger. Following extensive research for a "better-quality seed," he ordered a handful of Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seeds from a pumpkin seed specialty shop in Nova Scotia in February and put them in the ground in April.
'I always liked the colour orange and I was always fascinated by how quickly they grew'
It seems the pumpkin industry is like horse racing: Breeding is everything.
"The seeds were from an 800-pound (363 kg) pumpkin, so I knew we were going to get something big," Milan, who weighs just 77 pounds, proudly claimed.
"He kicked me out of the garden and my ragged little tomato patch is under some trees," his mother, Janice Lukes, laughed. "He took it all over. This is serious business."
For Milan, pumpkins are everything, so there was no argument over ground space when the backyard garden layout was discussed in the spring, no concern he would just plant the pumpkins and let Mom take care of the rest. Milan is the pumpkin whisperer.
"I'm out there every day taking care of them, since I'm just a kid and I have nothing really else to do," he said. "When I'm done my homework, I go outside and spend at least three hours a day with them. I just sit in my chair and watch them grow."
'He took (my garden) all over. This is serious business'
It's a little more involved than that, of course. Milan watered the plants when they were thirsty. He put sand underneath the pumpkins as they started to grow, to prevent them from getting soft. On hot sunny days, Milan crafted small tents to ward off skin rot. He even rubbed cream on one of the pumpkins to prevent a natural scar from expanding.
His pumpkins have names, too -- Garry, King Kong and Hugo.
Some 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg sits Roland, site of the annual pumpkin fair and pumpkin-growing competition. Last year, a man named Henry Banman from Schanzenfeld, Man., grew a pumpkin that tipped the scales at 565 kg.
Fair chairman Art Cameron knows all about the Lukes, as he welcomed Milan in for a tour of his own patch a few weeks back.
It's rare an 11-year-old would be so interested in pumpkins, and Cameron was very impressed by Milan's little orange thumb and his attention to pumpkin greatness.
"He's got the bug, that's for sure," said Cameron.
"I don't know how he got it. Before I started growing pumpkins, I thought it was a silly, stupid little hobby. You get hooked by it; growing a bigger one the next year was the motivation for me. I'm sure Milan is experiencing that right now."
On Oct. 5, the Lukes will load up a pair of giant pumpkins into a neighbour's trailer and haul them to Roland to have them weighed at the fair (pumpkins must be at least be 45 kg to be officially registered). Milan glows with excitement when he talks about showing off his pumpkins.
It will be an emotional time, his mom figures.
"It's going to be a sad day when he cuts it off the vine," she said. "We're already talking about next year."