Ainger STEM students grow mutant pumpkins

SUN PHOTO BY TOM CHANG L.A. Ainger Middle School students Romeo Ortiz, Chris Szoke, Corey Huntley and Kyle Frost grew three large pumpkin-gourd hybrids for Natalia Shea’s STEM class. The hybrids measured at approximately 70 inches in diameter, and weighed 139 pounds.

ENGLEWOOD — Students Kyle Frost, Romeo Ortiz, Corey Huntley and Chris Szoke might either be future mad scientists or agricultural pioneers after growing three giant pumpkins for Natalia Shea’s STEM class at L.A. Ainger Middle School.

STEM is a hybrid education program that incorporates science, technology, engineering and math.

While their initial ideas for growing cactus plants or trees didn’t pan out, they were given four pumpkin seeds which they planted in September. The boys tended to the pumpkins after their curriculum with Shea ended in December. Three of the seeds grew into giant pumpkins each weighing about 139 pounds.

“My class started the seeds growing them from 2-liter water bottles,” Shea said. “They then created a 20-by-20-foot enclosure bed surrounded by cinder blocks. They lined the bottom using newspaper.”

The seeds were a hybrid of pumpkin and gourd. The final result appeared to be giant pumpkins that had the color of pale summer squash and insides like cantaloupes.

“We wouldn’t have gotten this done if it wasn’t for the help of Coach Shea and my friends here,” said Kyle Frost, an Ainger student.

Shea said the students were methodical when growing the pumpkins. Three of the four pumpkins survived.

“A normal pumpkin patch will have multiple pumpkins, but the boys tended to this in a special way so all the nutrients went to the one pumpkin,” Shea said. “So they pruned it so that it didn’t have multiple pumpkins. That way, all the nutrients went right to the focal point instead of having a pumpkin patch. They were focused on growing a giant pumpkin.”

Tending to the pumpkins took a lot of resources.

“When they were smaller, we didn’t want to drown the roots so we covered them twice a week with fertilizer,” Frost said.

At their full growth, the pumpkins needed a lot of irrigation each week.

“The school’s going to have an expensive water bill, that’s for sure,” Shea said. “They required enough water to fill a spa or hot tub.”

Now that the pumpkins are grown, the boys will have a little fun with them. The boys smashed one on Friday, will carve another and plan to launch the third one with a catapult.

“It was very exciting at first,” Szoke said. “I can’t wait to carve that one.”

The project is a reflection of what STEM is about, Shea said.

“STEM class is all about problem solving,” she said. “The whole STEM initiative is getting kids to think and work together, solving problems whether it’s growing a giant pumpkin or figuring out how to live on Mars. They’ve really been dedicated. It’s nice to see them have a final product to be excited about and they should be proud about what they’ve done.”

Shea said she’s been getting donations from all over the community and has big plans for the garden’s future.

“If we can have a season where we can truly have an agriculture program, we can have a farmers market a couple times a year,” Shea said. “That’s my ultimate goal and for the kids to run that. We’ve come so far from the start. It’s been so awesome. The kids have been taking care of their own stuff and I’ve just been guiding them through it. They’ve done a real good job.”

SUN PHOTO BY TOM CHANG Romeo Ortiz is collecting seeds from a large pumpkin-gourd hybrid. Three large pumpkingourds were grown by students at L. A. Ainger Middle School for Natalia Shea’s STEM class.


About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News,, and Tampa Tribune.
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