By MIKE CORN
NICODEMUS -- The pumpkins in Gary Alexander's little slice of Eden are growing, the wire-enclosed hothouses quickly becoming overwhelmed by the ever-spreading vines and flowers.
He's got three of the hothouses, each one sheltering a single plant. Several other plants grow nearby, in soil that was specially formulated to nurture the fast growing giant pumpkins Alexander and his brother, Robert, hope to harvest come fall.
Alexander beams when he talks about the pumpkins.
Not so much when he talks about the peaches-and-cream variety of sweet corn growing on the north side of the row of pumpkin hot houses.
"I think it's that particular variety," Alexander said as he motioned to the short stature of the corn. "I think it's a small variety."
Perhaps with small ears.
It's sharply shorter than the rows of field corn that are a scant few feet away, planted to help serve as windbreaks for the pumpkins.
"That's the sweet corn," he said of the short rows. "We figured there'd be some sweet eating plus some wind block."
The wind block, is the key element here, offering protection to the pumpkins.
Each of the hothouses -- encased in wire to keep out predators and covered in white translucent material to let the sun in -- contains a single plant.
Right now, Alexander said the plant growing in the No. 3 hothouse is looking the best.
"We planted it first," he said. "But, it's one of the seeds we grew."
That pumpkin, something of a disappointment to Alexander and his brother, only grew to be about 140 pounds.
And it was a struggle to keep a pumpkin growing on the vine.
"They kept aborting for some reason," he said. "They'd come on and just die."
Still, he was able to pull out 300 seeds that he considered viable.
Brother Robert was on a quest to find seeds from a larger pumpkin, all in hopes of growing a monster.
"The pumpkin we raised, its mother was 900 pounds," Alexander said. "The seed we ordered, the mother was 1,200 pounds. They have the potential to get fairly big."
But they aren't cheap.
"Brother Robert, he said when they send you the seeds, they send the pedigree," Alexander said. "He paid $20 a seed."
And they weren't the most expensive available.
Alexander is watching individual fruits on each of the growing vines, knowing he will be pinching off the other pumpkins so the plant can put everything it has into a single pumpkin.
He's also been told to trim the vines back to no more than 12 feet long, so more energy goes into the pumpkin.
"I hate to cut them back," he said, "they look so good."
* * *
It's not just pumpkins at Alexander's garden.
His slice of Eden situated alongside Spring Creek to the west of Nicodemus also contains a community garden.
"All the women at the church wanted a garden," he said.
They've planted tomatoes, peppers, collared greens as well as other greens, he said.
Weeds are becoming a bit of a problem, but Alexander has been working on a solution to see if he can use his tractor to control the weeds.
He's also created a bit of a witch's brew, in the form of alfalfa tea that he is using to fertilize some of his garden.
Alfalfa contains triconatol, which promotes plant growth and helps to condition the soil.
"I've been brewing it and putting it on the plants," he said. "And I can see the difference."