November 22, 2014

Pick your pumpkins now

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Mary Whitcomb looks over her crop of pumpkins Tuesday afternoon. Record rain in May and June hurt many pumpkin crops, though Williston farmers avoided most of the damage. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate).

Mary Whitcomb looks over her crop of pumpkins Tuesday afternoon. Record rain in May and June hurt many pumpkin crops, though Williston farmers avoided most of the damage. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate).

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

September 26th, 2013

Record rainfall in May and June washed out roads and flooded rivers, but they also wreaked havoc on ground-sprawling plants—as many disappointed gardeners know.

Among the plants affected is that fall favorite, the pumpkin, along with winter squash and gourds.

“There are some serious problems with the pumpkin crop in some areas,” said John Adams, co-owner of Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market. “There’s going to be some people running out before Halloween. The same thing is true with winter squash.”

People might want to shop early if they want a local pumpkin, he said.

“I wouldn’t wait for the last minute,” Adams said.

Some farmers’ crops were washed away in the rain; others were unable to plant pumpkins and squash—which require a long maturing season—early enough due to wet ground. In addition, powdery mildew can spread quickly on crops that sit on the ground in wet weather.

Mike Isham of Isham Family Farm said his crop got off to a slow start due to soggy fields. He expects to begin selling pumpkins next week.

“This year because of the rain I tried planting July 1, but the fields were like soup due to all of the rain,” he wrote in an email to the Observer. “Nothing came up so I had to replant mid-July hoping for first to mid-October pumpkins… This year the pumpkin sizes are smaller due to the cooler weather and I do not suspect that I will have as many pumpkins, as well.”

Once they are ready, Isham expects a good crop of pumpkins, and hopes to be picking them into November, barring a hard frost.

Mary Whitcomb said Whitcomb’s Land of Pumpkins was mostly spared from problems.

“There is a pumpkin shortage due to the wet weather and the flooding in the fields,” she said. “I’ve been hearing from people that have had 50 percent or more damage, as far as their fields not even coming up…. The reason we avoided it is we didn’t get a lot of water in the area of the field the pumpkins were in.”

She added that they planted some seedlings this year rather than all seeds, giving the plants a boost. She also sprouted seeds before planting them—wrapping them in damp paper towels to start the germination process. It didn’t hurt that her neighbor across the street has four beehives, she added.

At Whitcomb’s, rows of hefty field pumpkins sit in front of the golden corn maze, along with knobby multicolored gourds, pie pumpkins and decorative pumpkins of all shades. Whitcomb said the crop has been good this year—and she’s been getting offers to wholesale her pumpkins from retailers whose normal pumpkin source doesn’t have enough to sell.

Kathryn Parker of Parker Family Farm—which sells a variety of pumpkins, fruit and homemade fudge—said her pumpkin crop is about 85 percent of what she expected it to be.

“The pumpkins had a rough start, and with all the water … the size is down this year,” she  said. “Even a week after the rain finally stopped, we still get could not get into our patches to weed. The weeds really became somewhat problematic.”

Parker said she does have plenty of pumpkins to sell—she harvested 2,000 pumpkins of 11 varieties. Though she sells decorative pumpkins, the farm specializes in pumpkin varieties developed for eating—solid, nutty Fairytale pumpkins, sweet grey-green Jarrahdales and delectable pie pumpkins.

She’s been getting calls from people looking for pumpkins from two counties away—where some farms got washed away or had much smaller numbers.

“They’ve been selling pretty rapidly,” she said of her pumpkins.

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