Ray Waterman poses with one of his massive pumpkins in a photo taken in 1990. He grew his largest pumpkin, weighing 780.5 pounds, in 1991.
To say Ray Waterman has a “green thumb” would be a gross understatement.
A lifelong farmer, Waterman began developing giant variety seeds in the 1980s that have the potential to grow record-breaking produce.
“There is a variety that I develop for competition,” said Waterman, whose world record seed selections include pumpkins, gourds, watermelons and sunflowers, among others. He creates these seeds through a careful process of crossing and selecting.
The Hamburg resident, formerly of Collins, has always enjoyed engaging in healthy competition.
“I was a long distance runner most of my life,” Waterman said. Yet when injuries made running difficult, Waterman decided to trade in his running shoes for a new challenge.
“I decided, ‘Well, I am going to grow a giant pumpkin,’” he said.
Waterman was inspired by a man named Howard Dill, who held the world record for largest pumpkin from 1979 to 1982, and developed his own seed variety known as Dill’s Atlantic Giant.
Growing a giant pumpkin was not an easy feat, Waterman remembered.
“My first pumpkin was pretty much a failure at 50 pounds,” he said, laughing. “But then they were a lot bigger after that.”
Waterman eventually went on to grow the world’s heaviest pumpkin in 1988, and again in 1991 with Nigerian farmer Ayo Ogungbuy. The pumpkin weighed in at 780.5 pounds.
Yet Waterman grew more than just record-breaking pumpkins.
“The long gourd variety that I developed, we broke the world record in 1990,” he said.
In 1983, Waterman established the World Pumpkin Confederation, after his twin brothers, Peter and Paul Waterman, grew the nation’s largest pumpkin ever grown that year.
“That’s how we initiated the whole contest and program,” he said.
Now, growers all over the world set annual goals and engage in friendly competition at the WPC annual contest. Monetary prizes are bestowed on winners.
“One year, we gave $50,000,” Waterman said.
This year, the WPC’s annual weigh off will be held in Williamsville on Sept. 29.
Waterman also began P&P Seed Co. (named after his twin brothers), where he sells his champion seeds. The company is owned and operated by his wife, Mary Kay Waterman.
Not only does Waterman sell his seeds, but he acts as an advisor as well.
“I counsel a lot of people on growing,” he said. “I have done everything from soup to nuts in terms of growing and promoting.
“I have been featured in everything from Weekly Reader to the Wall Street Journal.” He added that he was also featured on Voice of America broadcasts.
Waterman has also been a multiple contributor to “The Guinness Book of World Records,” helping to verify claims for the world’s largest flower or vegetable.
He wrote the foreword to Don Langevin’s book “How to Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins, II” and is even featured in the book “Dear Mr. Gorbachev,” a collection of over 300 letters sent to the former Communist ruler of the Soviet Union. In his letter, Waterman thanks Gorbachev for his help strengthening U.S. and Soviet relations and suggests forming an international growing competition between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
“We welcome your friendly competition,” wrote Waterman. “Pumpkins for Peace!”
Other accomplishments include, but are certainly not limited to, acting as key note speaker for the Great Lakes Vegetable Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., and traveling to China to talk to college students and high-society members on the art of growing giant vegetables.
Nevertheless, Waterman said the true “highlight of his career” has been his seven grandchildren.
“My life revolves around my family,” he said.
The advice he gives to those who dream of growing record-breaking plants seems simple: “acquire the best seeds, enhance all good things that could happen with the plant and try to deter all negative things from happening to the specimen.
“Try to gain from your experiences and set goals,” he said.
Yet Waterman said that while rewarding, competitive gardening is challenging and at times even downright frustrating.
“You are up against Mother Nature, and it throws a lot at you sometimes,” he said.
Waterman’s personal goal, which he encourages all WPC members to share with him, is to see a pumpkin grow to weigh over 2,000 pounds.
“The biggest ever grown so far has been a little over 1,800 pounds in Canada this past year,” he said.
For more information on the World Pumpkin Confederation and P&P Seed Co., including links to the seed catalog and supply store for those interested in making a purchase, visit www.pandpseed.com.