Pumpkin picking season is upon us. Whether you visit a pumpkin patch like the one at Community Orchards or simply shop uptown, there are more varieties than ever this year.
The seasonal fruit has come into season earlier than usual, said Earl May manager Rick Lamoureux.
"We've already seen quite a few good pumpkin sales going out the door," Lamoureux said. "People are getting in the fall mood. My theory is, summer has been so hot and miserable, I think people are excited to start thinking about a new season.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Andrew Mlodzik, left, and Kyle Howell cut pumpkin stems so the pumpkins can be picked at the weekend Applefest at the Community Orchard. This pumpkin patch covers about five acres. Free rides to the field on a tractor wagon or the “pumpkin cruiser” will be provided.
"We've got plenty of pumpkins. We got roughly nine tons of pumpkins in last Friday," he added.
Another option from Earl May is the heirloom pumpkin, Lamoureux said.
"Pumpkins today, through genetics, have came to these nice smooth jack-o'-lanterns that everybody thinks of," he said. "The original pumpkin does not look like the pumpkin of today. We have some heirloom pumpkins that are real bumpy, and have kind of a different look."
The hot dry season this year hasn't put too much strain on October's most popular produce, especially not here.
"We have probably the best crop we've ever had. They come out of irrigated fields in Nebraska, and they look excellent this year," he said.
John Morrison, produce manager at Fareway, said his pumpkins are looking good too.
Larry McCollum, Hy-Vee produce manager, said his pumpkin supplier in Shell Rock had a good crop.
"He was rather surprised. He had no irrigation, and for the weather we had, he had a really good crop," McCollum said.
The Hilltop Pumpkin Patch in Marathon also had success with no irrigation.
"Pumpkins do well in dry weather," said owner Joe Pedersen. "You have male and female flowers with pumpkins, and it takes bees to move the pollen. After a rain it takes three days for the pollen to come back in the flower. (A couple years ago) it rained a lot. That's good for growth, but that's not good for flowers to pollinate.
"This year we didn't have any problem with that. We had good pollination, we probably have the best crop we've ever had."
Pedersen is a retired teacher. Between raising pumpkins for FFA and raising them himself, he's been growing pumpkins for around 30 years in a two- acre patch one mile west of Marathon.
He's always looking for new varieties to raise.
"We have a new one out called Field Trip," he said. "They have real cool stems; they're perfect for kids to pick up and carry. Another new one we put out this year is Flatso. It has a flat shape to it."
Pedersen sometimes adds to the decorative quality of his crops by scratching them.
"If you scratch when they're kind of green, they'll grow a scar," he said. "They'll turn orange and you have this brown scar. You might put somebody's name on it, or put a name in a heart, you put 'Joe plus Sue,' you know, and it turns out really cool."
The Community Orchard in Fort Dodge has about eight acres' worth of pumpkin patch. Five acres will be open every weekend in October for people to come picking as part of Applefest.
Owner Greg Baedke said pickers will get a ride down the hill from the main building to the pumpkin patch in the "pumpkin cruiser." Although the drought has had an effect on his crop compared to other years, there are still plenty of pumpkins out there.
Bev Baedke said there was no way to know exactly how many pumpkins were in the patch.
"It's thousands," she said. "We have lots of gourds, unusual type squash and unusual type pumpkins this year.
In particular, they have Gray Ghost pumpkins and Blue Hubbard squash.
"The Gray Ghost is gray instead of orange. A Blue Hubbard squash is just a huge big monstrosity of a piece of produce. It's different looking," she said.
Pumpkins aren't just for decorating, though. Bev Baedke said the orchard also sells sugar pie pumpkins.
"That's what people would use if they want to make a pie," she said. "The jack-o'-lantern varieties are less meaty and more hollow."
That doesn't mean they can't be eaten, though.
"They're all considered edible food. They're all non-tax pumpkins," Lamoureux said.
Hy-Vee, Earl May and the Hilltop Pumpkin Patch also sell the sweet pie pumpkin, which is a bit smaller than most ornamental varieties.
Of course, the orchard's specialty is apples. That crop wasn't harmed by the drought or the heat; however a warm snap followed by a frost in April damaged some of the blossoms early on.
"Our crop was hurt by the frost. This is one of the smaller crops I've seen," said Greg Baedke. "We still have plenty of apples.
"There is a big demand this year for apples. The frost hit pretty much from here to the East Coast."
While one of the newest varieties of apples, the Zestar, didn't survive the frost as well, Greg Baedke said the popular Honeycrisp apple was plentiful.