A family of dahlia growers have a big treat for Halloween

Nicholas Gitts Jr., owner of Swan Island Dahlias, loves standing outside his daughters house on North Fir Street and watching the reactions of cheaters as they approach.

The draw isn’t an elaborate haunted house exhibit or Halloween-themed prank, but a sprawling, enchanted pumpkin patch in Brendon and Heather Schloe’s front yard.

The real surprise comes to visitors when they realize that the 2- to 4-foot-tall gourds are not mass-produced plastic decorations bought from Home Depot or Amazon – but actual hand-carved pumpkins – each emblazoned with a unique design.

“It’s really fun to sit outside on Halloween and hear what people are saying,” Gitts said with a laugh. “Most of the time people think they are plastic; then they come up and say, “Oh my God, they’re real! We’re just like, “Yeah, they’re all real.” “

You can understand their confusion. The Canby area remains a place where people most often prefer real pumpkins and Christmas trees for their Christmas decorations to factory-made alternatives – and the Willamette Valley is a top producer in the state and the country of two cultures.

Photo courtesy of Heather Schloe.

But even here, the pumpkins people carve generally don’t tip the scales at 400 pounds or more.

Growing and plucking to slice monstrous gourds has become a unique and beloved tradition for Gitts and his children and grandchildren for 15 years or more.

Gitts himself grows the pumpkins on the farm in North Canby which, for obvious reasons, is much more easily associated with the dahlia which has become a Canby trademark.

“Most of them average between 300 and 400 pounds,” Gitts explains. “I use the giant pumpkin seeds, but I don’t feed them or use extra food or something like that. I’m not trying to set a record or win a contest like the thousand pound one you see. We just want giants for the sculpture.

The family will usually get together the week or weekend before Halloween for the carving (giant pumpkins hold a lot more water and – as a direct result – rot a lot faster than the commercial version, so giant slayers need to be careful of do not slice them too soon).

Photo courtesy of Heather Schloe.

The skin of giant pumpkins is also much thicker, which the family tackles using power tools like jigsaws (with 8-10 inch blades), reciprocating saws and drills as well as hand tools. traditional hand.

The sculpture took place on Friday this year, with 18 members of Gitts’ extended family at the Schloe carport for the annual tradition.

Gitts explained that the hardworking Swan Island team are able to move most behemoths by hand using a tarp and four men at a time – but two 500-pound guns this year had to be tractor loaded.

The display usually includes 20-25 gourdes, but this year there were over 40.

“I grew them in a different location this year, and they worked really well,” Gitts explained. “We got some extras.”

Photo courtesy of Heather Schloe.

While some of the younger grandchildren aren’t old enough for power tools or strong enough to cut giants’ flesh on their own, they still enjoy working on pumpkins that are, in many cases, as big or bigger as they are.

“We put one of the grandchildren inside one last night,” Gitts said with a laugh on Saturday.

That’s a lot of work for a display that only lasts a few days, but for the Gitts family, it’s well worth it.

“It has become a very good tradition,” said Gitts. “It’s so nice to see the family get involved. It really has become a family tradition in its own right, like Thanksgiving. It is very rewarding.

The giant pumpkin patch will be on display until Halloween at the Schloe House, 1287 North Fir Street.

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