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Pumpkins fewer, smaller

September 26, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

People should pick their pumpkins early this year if they want a good size gourd to carve for Halloween.

Pumpkin crop yields appear to be lower than last year due to a variety of problems, Tri-State area farmers said.

In addition to the obvious effects of drought and heat, the humidity led to mildew problems, last year's mild winter allowed insects to become a problem earlier than normal and farmers had to battle bugs.

The earlier people go pumpkin shopping, the better chance they'll have of getting the bigger pumpkins, said Bill Reynolds, who owns Reynolds Farm southeast of Waynesboro, Pa.

Many pumpkin farms in the area already have begun or will begin this weekend offering hay rides to their pumpkin patches as the pumpkin shopping season starts picking up five weeks before Halloween.

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Despite lower yields than normal and smaller pumpkins on average, pumpkin farmers said they have pumpkins suitable for carving and cooking.

At Town & Country Nursery near Leetown, W.Va., the pumpkin crop is expected to be 75 percent to 80 percent the size of last year's yield, which was exceptional, Bob Tabb said. Last year, there was a glut of pumpkins, whereas this year there could be a shortage as Halloween approaches, Tabb said.

"It wasn't an easy year to grow pumpkins," Tabb said.

Last year's mild winter led to more problems with insects such as cucumber and squash beetles, and this summer's humidity led to mildew problems, Tabb said.

The mildew caused pumpkin plants to lose their leaves, which left some pumpkins exposed to the sunlight and heat, Tabb said.

"We probably lost 5 percent of our crop due to sunburn," Tabb said. "That's the first time I've ever seen it happen."

"(Mildew is) one of the real bugaboos with pumpkins," said Judy Crum, of the family-owned Maze at Crumland Farms north of Frederick, Md.

Crum said she didn't have problems with mildew, but her pumpkins aren't as heavy as usual because of insufficient rainfall.

"They won't have a thick rind on them," Crum said. They may not last as long as they normally would, she said.

Mehrl Mayne said his pumpkins were of good size, but also were lighter than normal.

Maynes Tree Farm in Buckeystown, Md., lost about 50 percent of its pumpkin crop because of slugs, deer, drought, heat and mildew, Mayne said.

"It's a hair-raising experience, trying to do the pumpkins," said Mayne, who began growing pumpkins 10 years ago to lure customers to his Christmas tree farm.

With insecticides and fungicides needed, pumpkins aren't cheap to grow and lighter pumpkins will affect the revenue line because they are sold by the pound, Mayne said. He said he expects to break even on his pumpkin crop this year.

After the water level in Reynolds' well dropped last year, he said he decided to plant five fewer acres of pumpkins this year.

"The well is down to about 60 percent, so I'm glad I cut back the field. We just barely made it through," Reynolds said.

As with other pumpkin farmers, Reynolds said the pumpkins that got water did fairly well. They are about two to three pounds lighter than normal, but still good carving size.

Tabb said his large pumpkins aren't as big as last year when he had pumpkins weighing up to 220 pounds.

His biggest pumpkin this year was about 150 pounds, which was large enough to win the biggest pumpkin contest last Sunday at the Berkeley Springs (W.Va.) Farmers Market, Tabb said.

Page Houser's pumpkin yield is about 75 percent to 80 percent of normal, but the pumpkins he has are of excellent quality, he said.

"We've got a real nice crop of pumpkins, but we've been fortunate to get some rain showers that some areas didn't get," said Houser of Houser Produce Farm in the Downsville area.

The rain arrived in August, which is a critical time for pumpkins, Houser said. With 60 acres of pumpkins, Houser has one of the larger pumpkin crops in the Tri-State area.

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