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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pumpkins flourish on compost from CdA sewage facility

Jakob Layson, operator-in-training for the City of Coeur d’Alene wastewater treatment plant, harvested a few pumpkins at the facility on Tuesday. The pumpkins were grown using Coeur d’Green compost made from municipal biosolids.  (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman Review)

Take a patch of ground at the city of Coeur d’Alene’s wastewater treatment plant.

Add pumpkins seeds, plus a generous helping of Coeur d’Green, a compost made from recycled city sewage.

The result? A bumper crop of Giant Atlantic Dill pumpkins.

On Tuesday, treatment plant workers harvested two dozen of the fleshy squash, each weighing between 18 and 100 pounds. Michael Taylor set aside two.

“My wife said, ‘You’ve been bragging about them all summer. You’d better bring one home,’ ” said Taylor, a treatment plant operator-in-training.

This year’s crop was puny by previous standards. Last year, employees grew a 500-pounder.

“It took three of us to roll it onto a pallet,” said Andy Williams, another plant operator, who took the giant globe home for his kids to carve. “We used a forklift to hoist it into the back of my pickup. I needed a backhoe to unload it.”

Growth rates for this year’s pumpkin crop were inhibited by the cool, wet start to summer, said Casey Fisher, chief operator for the treatment plant. Ongoing construction to upgrade the treatment plant also interrupted watering, which is critical for pumpkin weight gain.

But this year’s pumpkin vines still threatened to overtake a small parking lot. And zucchini mistakenly planted with the pumpkins produced 150 pounds of fruit.

City employees started growing giant pumpkins about five years ago. They experimented with different varieties but found they got the best results from Giant Atlantic Dills.

The patch is a conversation piece for community tours of the plant. Employees enjoy keeping track of the pumpkins’ progress. Nearly all of them were marked with initials Tuesday; workers with children and grandchildren had staked their claims.

The giant pumpkins also help advertise Coeur d’Green, a soil-enhancing compost that the city has sold to nurseries since 1990.

Heat kills the pathogens in the compost, making it safe for use in nurseries and vegetable gardens. Coeur d’Green is slightly acidic, which creates ideal soil conditions for raising the Giant Atlantic Dills.

“Coeur d’Green isn’t defined as a fertilizer, but it’s got so many micronutrients that it really promotes growth,” said Sid Frederickson, the city’s wastewater superintendent.