FILLMORE, Calif. — There are heads growing on Tony Dighera’s farm, and they’re not made of lettuce.
They’re called “pumpkinsteins,” and they look a lot like the Frankenstein creature that actor Boris Karloff made famous more than 80 years ago.
“Nobody’s ever seen anything like it, ever,” said Dighera of his creepy creations.
“It’s so new, and it’s so unique that demand has been off the charts,” Dighera said.
Dighera, who opened his Cinagro Farms eight years ago, says he was inspired after seeing cube-shaped watermelons grown in Japan. He was successful in creating not only edible, box-shaped watermelons at his Fillmore, California, organic farm, but heart-shaped melons as well. He then made the leap to try to create a unique-looking pumpkin — a four-year process that is only proving fruitful this year.
“A lot of people thought I was nuts,” the goateed farmer said during a visit to see his crops. “When I first started doing this I think every farmer in the world looked at me like I was a complete lunatic.”
It was a scary prospect for Dighera, who says he not only invested all of his money, but also that of friends and family, as he experimented with different varieties of pumpkins and various materials and designs for the mold.
An early design of the Frankenstein monster was dismissed as being too spooky, so the mouth was changed to create a slight smile. Dighera needed to create a strong mold that could encase a pumpkin, yet permit air to reach the growing gourd inside.
The pumpkin variety had to be just right. They couldn’t be too big or they’d burst from the molds. Too small and the pumpkins wouldn’t fill the molds.
Dighera won’t go into much more detail to protect his investment, but he’s more than happy to share his reaction upon unveiling his first successful pumpkinstein.
“That first time we pulled it off, and it worked, we all looked at each other.” said Dighera, “It was high fives all around.”
But there’s still a learning curve. Dighera says he produced 5,500 pumpkins this year, but that’s only a 60% success rate.
The biggest complications: heat, bugs and too much condensation, all of which can rot the pumpkins within the molds at any time during their more than three-month growing period.
Dighera doesn’t know whether he has a thriving pumpkinstein until he removes the nuts and bolts from the mold and successfully removes the pumpkin. If the pumpkin’s shell sticks to the mold and tears during this final process, the squash is squashed.
“There’s absolutely zero return on it,” Dighera explained.
Dighera believes he’s developed the skills now to produce a bumper crop of his creations next year. He predicts a 90% success rate totaling some 40,000 pumpkinsteins.
But don’t expect pumpkinsteins to boot jack-o’-lanterns off the porch completely. They’re not cheap, costing $100 or more at some Southern California markets specializing in organic produce, such as Whole Foods and Erewhon. They are already sold out online at cinagro-farms.com.
While the price scared off most customers at Erewhon Market in Calabasas, California, all of them were fascinated at the Frankenstein farmer’s feat.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said 13-year-old Johnny Palla. “It’s really cool.”
“That’s weird, but I like it,” said Ashley Forster, calling the pumpkin a real Halloween eye-grabber. “People would stop and look at it.”
That’s the novelty that Dighera is banking on, but he’s already creating something to rival his own pumpkinsteins. He says he’ll be planting white pumpkins and growing them in the shape of skulls, another face to help get this farmer ahead next Halloween.