Meet the Harvard Professor Behind a Winning 1,870-Pound Pumpkin

Charles Lieber is a chemistry professor who spends lots of time in the backyard.

ByABC News
October 13, 2014, 3:07 PM

— -- The Massachusetts man who set a state record and won a pumpkin weigh-off this weekend with a 1,870-pound pumpkin is only a part-time pumpkin grower.

In his other life, Charles Lieber, 55, is a professor of chemistry at Harvard University whose research is “focused broadly on science and technology at the nanoscale, using novel synthesized building blocks to push scientific boundaries in diverse areas from biology/medicine to energy and computing,” according to his research group’s website.

There was nothing “nano" about the 1,870-pound pumpkin that Lieber grew this year in the backyard of his Lexington, Massachusetts, home. The pumpkin beat 44 other pumpkins to take home first prize this weekend at the annual giant pumpkin weigh-off at Frerichs Farm in Warren, Rhode Island.

“It set the record as the biggest one grown in Massachusetts,” Lieber’s wife, Jennifer, told ABC News today. “He would have liked to have broken the 1,900-pound barrier but he’s happy with it.”

Lieber himself was not available for an interview today because of his day job at Harvard.

Jennifer Lieber said the (pumpkin) seed of her husband’s unlikely hobby was first planted about eight years ago by the couple’s now college-aged son.

“My son was interested in growing pumpkins and my husband got a book from his dad about growing giant pumpkins and then they started growing them,” she said. “I think the first one he took to a competition, in 2007, weighed about 1,100 pounds.”

The growing of this year’s 1,870-pound pumpkin began indoors last April, according to Lieber. The pumpkin was moved into a heated greenhouse at the end of April and was pollinated in June.

The Liebers grow the pumpkins each year at their home, which is flanked by neighbors on either side.

“Now it is commonplace,” Lieber said of the seemingly unusual sight. “If we don’t have a pumpkin, neighbors ask, ‘Where is the pumpkin?’ or, ‘How big is it going to be this year?’

“In the beginning people would ask where we bought it,” she recalled.

Lieber says she is not involved much in the growing process but offers “moral support,” especially when it comes to what she describes as the hardest part of the process: moving the pumpkin from the ground to a trailer to travel to the competitions.

“We have a steel tripod and on the top is a hoisting system,” Lieber said. “You lift the pumpkin up and back the trailer up. We think that’s the hardest part, directing the trailer.”

The family, which also includes a 15-year-old daughter, this year also grew a 1,362-pound pumpkin that earlier this month won both the heaviest and best-looking titles at a pumpkin weigh-off in Maine.

Both pumpkins are now sitting in the Leibers' front yard, where they will be carved as Jack-O-Lanterns using a special saw to pierce through their 12-inch walls at some points.

After Halloween, the pumpkins’ seeds will be harvested and auctioned off, a familiar practice for giant- pumpkin growers.

“The giant-pumpkin clubs hold auctions of pumpkin seeds from the largest pumpkins to raise money,” she said. “Then the growers use the seeds.”