What would Charlie Brown say?

The Great Pumpkin no longer just sits in a field, drawing viewers to wonder at its majesty. Now you can float one in a regatta, or drop it from a crane onto a Chevy Camaro.

Big pumpkins are even getting to be big business - contests for the biggest pumpkins pay out thousands of dollars, with buyers standing nearby at competitions, eager to make the winners their very own.

That's a lot of bucks for a lot of pumpkin, and the big ones don't even make the best pies. On Oct. 1, Larry Checkon weighed in his 1,469-pound pumpkin to take the first prize for the heaviest pumpkin on record. Last weekend, pumpkin enthusiasts brought their big ones to the beach for the sixth annual "Terminator Weigh-Off" event at the Chinook Winds Casino.

Entrants bet that their pumpkins would top the 2004 entry of 1,205 pounds. The Chinook Winds event is taken quite seriously - contestants were expected to take part from all over the world. As an International Pumpkin Association event, the winner stood to receive an all-expense paid trip to Japan.

Growing giant pumpkins is a time-intensive labor of love. It's also apparently addicting, as Web sites such as BigPumpkins.com and clubs such as the Pacific Northwest Pumpkin Growers Association have gained great popularity. There is also the Giant Vegetable News Network, which keeps you up to date on giant growing events around the world via the World Wide Web.

Most growers choose mammoth varieties such as "Atlantic Giant," "Big Max," "Big Moon" and "Prizewinner Hybrid." There is great debate as to the best growing methods - discussions of using this or that fertilizer, pinching off various branches at different times and protecting young giants from frost fill the pages at the BigPumpkins.com Web site.

Sometimes all the discussion makes you simply want to see big pumpkins and judge them for yourselves.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, you can do exactly that at the second Annual West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta at the Lake of the Commons in Tualatin, west of Portland. Registration begins at 8 a.m., with the first heat to start at noon. Yes, there will be folks in the lake, astride their giant pumpkins, competing for the right to be called "squashbucklers." This year's event includes a new category: electric motorized pumpkin. Buyers will be on hand to purchase seaworthy squash.

Closer to home, I've noticed a fine big pumpkin or two at the Astoria Community Store. Staff there promise that pumpkin related events are in the works.

Here are some more places to see pumpkins big and small in their native habitat:

• The Jim Dandy Farm, 45770 N.W. Sunset Highway (26), about two miles west of Banks, features fall family fun, including a free corn maze and pumpkin patch. Weekends include a pirates treasure hunt at what becomes the Haunted Farm. It's open 6:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Bring a flashlight and take in the spooky corn maze and graveyard, ghost stories and the scary sounding Uncle Ed's Experimental Garden. For information, call (503) 324-3954.

• Kruger's Farm Market , 17100 N.W. Sauvie Island Road, Sauvie Island, offers free hayrides to its pumpkin patch, pony rides and face painting. Don't miss the corn maze. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For information, call (503) 621-3489.

• The Pumpkin Patch, 16525 N.W. Gillihan Road, Sauvie Island, features pumpkins, and a big and fun corn maze through Oct. 31. Most people spend an average of one hour trying to maneuver their way out. The farm phone number is (503) 621-3874. Maze information is available at (503) 621-7110 or by e-mailing portlandmaze@hotmail.com. Open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson@pacifier.com

Destination: The Pacific, the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration held in our region Nov. 11 through 15, has something for just about everybody. Including gardeners.

Clatsop County Master Gardener and landscaper Teresa Retzlaff and a team of assistants will be creating a Botanical Garden in the Clatsop County Fairgrounds as part of the Festival of the Pacific, Nov. 11 through 13. The gardenwill be made up of plants the explorers would have found in their travels along the Lower Columbia River. Retzlaff asks for volunteers to help greet visitors to the garden and answer questions. Helpers will also make sure the exhibit, which will feature hundreds of donated or loaned plants, looks good for the event that is slated to draw thousands of people during its run.

Assistance is also needed setting up and taking down the display. For information, contact Retzlaff at greengardengirl@earthlink.net or (503) 738-2083.

"Any and all help is most gratefully appreciated," Retzlaff says. "This promises to be a wonderful exhibit, a fun festival and a chance to help our region really shine on the national stage."

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