Russell Stanton has secrets. He’ll share some of them with you, but not all of them. Stanton has won the blue ribbon for largest squash six out of seven years at the Minnesota State Fair. He’s happy to tell you that he has a particularly advantageous spot in which to garden right here in Edina. “Edina has some very rich soil,” he says. With his garden located near a pond, the water table is so high he barely needs to water his vegetables. And, summer days are long. “Some things are pretty simple,” he says. “Water, soil, light.”
But there are other tricks to growing a squash taller than a man. One that he will share, is identifying the most likely squash early, removing all the other ones and letting the plant focus on just that one. Before he became a blue ribbon winner Stanton was a regular gardener. So, when did he get the idea to become a competitive gardener?
“Well, it started when some new neighbors moved in down the street,” he says. “They were from India, originally, and Jamuna still had family there. I brought her some vegetables from my garden as a welcome gift and she cooked them and shared the dish with us, and we got into the habit of doing that … I’d grow them, she’d cook them, we’d all eat them,” he says. “Then, as a gift, she brought me some seeds from India to plant.”
Stanton trained the new Indian squash vines to grow over some sumac trees in his backyard. After a storm one evening he came out to find one of the trees bent over and thought that the wind must’ve broken a branch. Upon closer examination he realized there was young squash already several feet long and so heavy that once the wind pushed the limb down it had lost the battle. “I ran down the street to get my neighbor, Jamuna, and show her what had happened!” he explains. He says the summer days are so much longer here than at the equator that the extra growing time gave the squash super powers.
That fall, the two families went to the state fair together and when they saw the largest squash they were stunned. “Our squash were at least two feet longer,” he says. So, the next year he entered and the rest, as they say, is history.
After his win last year, Stanton retired from squash competition. “I wanted to go out on top,” he says with a laugh. Besides, he thought it was time to give someone else a chance. He’d noticed a young man from Edina who was really passionate about winning, so Stanton gave some of his super seeds to the young man for his entry next year. He says he might try his hand at growing something else—he’s also won twice for growing the longest green bean: 36 and 33 inches. But he’ll definitely keep gardening.
“Gardening is a pretty universal thing,” he says. “People the world over enjoy gardening. Seeds are miraculous. These tiny seeds unfurl into something … they know what they are supposed to be.”
Stanton is interested in innovation and says, and once he starts working to grow the biggest squash or the longest green bean, he gets focused. “Or obsessive, as my daughter says,” he says. So maybe he still has some more blue ribbons in his gardening future.