Bad weather squashes this year's pumpkin crop

8:10 PM, Oct 17, 2013   |    comments
Erin Packie and her son, Silas, select from hundreds of pumpkins that are lined up for sale at Ellie's Farm Market on Tuesday in Northfield, Vt. (Photo: By Toby Talbot, AP)
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If you go looking for pumpkins this weekend, don't be surprised if the pickings look a little slimmer than usual.

Heavy rainfall in some areas, and drought in others hurt the season's first crop in early summer, and by the end of the July, it was too late for many farmers to replant.

That's what happened in Delaware, where pumpkins are in short supply this year, according to Keith and Rebecca Johnson of Johnson's Country Market in Selbyville.

"With agriculture, you're at the mercy of Mother Nature," Rebecca Johnson said, "and this year, she wasn't very kind to the pumpkin crop."

Bob Douglas, 63, owner of the 160-acre Douglas Orchards in Shoreham, Vt., said conditions for pumpkins there have been "pathetic."

"We probably got half of what we usually have," he said. "It was the wet spring. They don't like wet weather when they're trying to germinate. Our squash is even worse."

Drought hurts, too. Ray Waterman, owner of P&P Seed Company in Hamburg, N.Y., said his farm fought off drought for five weeks, which self-pruned much of his pumpkin crop.

In Massachussets, temperatures in the high 90s made it tough for pumpkin farmers. The fruit's flowers didn't grow as well as they would have in normal weather conditions, said Ben Farnum, owner of Boston Hill Farm in North Andover.

"The yields are off from what they'd normally be," he said. "That is because of the heat - those hot days, the blossoms don't like to set. My customers tend to forget that we had such tough weather. We will have plenty of pumpkins for sale, but it was a struggle to get them."

Rob Shenot, manager at Shenot Farms in Weaford, Pa., said rain and high humidity can leave pumpkins and squash susceptible to a fungus that appears similar to white flour, and causes dry, brittle leaves.

"Overall, it wasn't a bad crop, but we had disease to deal with," Shenot said.

As a result, for the first time in six years, Shenot Farms decided to purchase pumpkins from another farm in eastern Ohio, "as an insurance policy," Rob Shenot said, "to make sure we make it through the next few weeks."

Johnny Burt, a pumpkin farmer for 41 years at the foot of the Appalachian Trail in Dawsonville, Ga., said his 272-acre farm got 86 inches of rain through the planting season. Normally, he said, it's 56 inches of rain for the year.

The pumpkin crop at Burt's Farm survived, thanks to a bed of plastic mulch.

"It usually keeps the water in, ut this year, it helped keep the water out. The plants would have drowned at the root if we didn't have this," Burt said.

Not all pumpkin patches were pummeled. At Harvest Moon Pumpkin Patch in Oakland, Neb., it's a banner year for pumpkin sales.

"I tell you what, we've had a really good year," said Terry Wallerstedt, who runs the retail operation but does not grow pumpkins herself. "The year before we had drought and the pumpkin crop was horrible. This year, it was just great. We're almost completely sold out. We've had an awesome year and just great crowds."

There are also pumpkins aplenty in the Pacific Northwest. At Farmer John's Produce & Nursery in McMinnville, Ore., owner Mary Beth Bernards said pumpkins are fine.

Shane also reports for The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times. Contributing: Leigh Giangreco, The Daily Times.

 

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