A scrapbook put together by Gus Crissman’s daughter-in-law shows an article from April 1957 that shows Crissman — then a student at Bradford High School — with a science exhibition on hydroponics.
He had just won the official Buhl Planetarium Science Craft Award at the School Science Fair in Pittsburgh for the project, a study in soil improvement through use of nutrients in liquid form.
Crissman’s interest in gardening continues today, with the Foster Township resident growing competition-level produce, including giant pumpkins for which he is known in the community.
In fact, every year Crissman donates some of his prized pumpkins to George G. Elementary School.
As Halloween approaches, donation money is collected from students to give to three organizations. The class that collects the largest donation gets to carve the pumpkins.
Crissman said it’s “comical” to watch the students dig in to the giant pumpkins.
Crissman said he will probably take around three Connecticut field pumpkins and one of his long gourds to GGB for the students.
He noted that this year he produced about a dozen “beautiful” long gourds — far more than other years, when he is sometimes lucky to get one good one.
It was a rough start to the growing season this year due to the constant rain, said Crissman. With some work, he was able to pull through. August had great growing weather he said, but it went downhill a little in September.
A current problem in his garden is a bear that’s been visiting, which recently caused some damage to his corn crops.
Crissman puts a great deal of work into caring for his garden each year.
“I do everything by hand,” he said.
That includes pollinating the pumpkin plants.
Also, he feeds his plants nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, usually every other day. He mixes the nutrients with water to spray on the plants, which absorb nutrients through the leaves. The nutrients he uses varies depending on the time of the season.
The giant pumpkins put on weight quickly, enough that Crissman noted that when the growth rate approaches 50 pounds a day, they risk bursting.
His prized plants have hoop houses over them now, and sometimes he even uses sleeping bags to protect them from the cold.
“The amount of care they get is unbelievable,” Crissman said.
He shares the best of his produce with the public by taking part in competitions in Altoona and Canfield, Ohio. Among the produce he submits are tomatoes, long gourds, sunflowers, Connecticut field pumpkins and Atlantic giant pumpkins. He has won before for his Connecticut field pumpkins.