Whether it's a pumped pumpkin, a gargantuan gourd or a colossal cornstalk, Bill Rogerson has a thing for ponderous produce.
``If it don't grow big, I don't play with it,' says Rogerson, whose mammoth melons have notched him two spots in the Guinness Book of World Records, a 279-pound watermelon in the 1991 edition and a 59.5-pound cantaloupe in the upcoming 1992 version.But Rogerson, who describes himself as a ``grow-a-holic,' is not content with just two records. He wants more records, bigger records, better records.
``I like to grow big stuff,' said. ``It's an obsession.'
His most recent accomplishment, the 42-inch ear of corn, sprouted from a 20-foot cornstalk he planted just in front of his Robersonville home, located in Martin County about 100 miles east of Raleigh. He had been aiming to grow the world's tallest stalk - 32 feet - and had not expected the plant to yield any corn at all.
But Rogerson is not complaining about the unanticipated turn of events. He smells another record.
``I ain't going to be denied on this corn,' he vows. ``We're making history.'
This is not a muscular ear of corn. Rather, it's of the bean-pole variety, long and skinny, like a gangly basketball player. He has already had two agricultural extension agents come to his house to certify its length before it falls off the stalk.
``Needless to say, it was the longest ear of green growing corn that I have ever seen,' Martin County extension director Leon Allen wrote in his certification letter.
A tour through Rogerson's fields is like a journey through the set of a 1950s science fiction movie, with each vegetable more freakishly large than the next. As he drives around the farm in a beat up Toyota pick-up, Rogerson sings the praises of his various creations, which seem to provide him with unlimited pleasure.
``I want to show you a gourd,' he says, hopping out of the truck and pulling brambles off of an immense white blob. ``There's gourds and there's gourds - now this here's a gourd!'
Sure enough, it's a mighty big gourd - much bigger than a basketball, and too heavy to lift off the ground without a lot of huffing and puffing.
``That's a right nice gourd,' says Rogerson, who estimates it weighs between 50 and 60 pounds. ``I'm hoping it'll go 80 pounds. The record's 78.'
Now it's off to the pumpkin patch, where an orange mass pokes out from beneath a leafy, green vine. It's hard to believe the blob is just a baby - one week old, and it's already 22 inches long and 22 inches wide.
``That's tremendous, man, that's tremendous,' says Rogerson, who recently grew a pumpkin so fast it split open when it hit about 300 pounds. He's hoping the current one will break the 500-pound barrier.
He's the Dr. Frankenstein of the fruit and vegetable world, a man who has grown a 6-inch peanut and a 35-pound rutabaga, a man who won't stop until he grows an eggplant ``as big as a 5-gallon bucket.'
Confidently asserting that his 42-inch ear of corn will join his watermelon and cantaloupe in the Guinness record book, Rogerson vows to knock out several record-holders before he's finished.
``A lot of them will be heartbroken before I get done,' he says.
Rogerson is hard-pressed to explain his fascination with oversize fruits and vegetables. ``Why am I a grow-a-holic?' he asks. ``I don't know. If I did, I'd go get help.'
He won't say much about his growing secrets. Top-quality soil and dedication are crucial, he said. He admits to using cow manure, potash and Miracle-Gro - a plant food he has promoted in a nationally broadcast television commercial.
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