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White pumpkins are popular novelty item

White pumpkins are popular novelty item

Pumpkins are abundant throughout the Capital Region this year, and some prefer the seldom seen white
White pumpkins are popular novelty item
Ladislao Garcia, left, and his brother, Ernesto Garcia, harvest white pumpkins behind Enge&rsquo;s Farm &amp; Market on Albany Shaker Road in Colonie.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Along with the changing leaves and cooler air comes fall traditions, including apple picking, cider doughnuts and the annual hunt for the perfect pumpkin.

Pumpkins are abundant this year throughout the Capital Region in various varieties from small to large and even in white. However, they’ll be more expensive.

The popular — and elusive — white pumpkin can be found at Engel’s Farm and Market on Albany Shaker Road across from the Desmond Hotel.

Co-owner Ed Engel said he has been growing the variety for three years and always sells out. “They are pretty popular,” he said. “They are right by the door to our store and are disappearing really fast. They are absolutely beautiful.”

Engel said the white pumpkins are harder to grow than other varieties, but seem to do fine on his farm. Engel owns about 86 acres and uses about three for his pumpkin patch.

Engel said white pumpkins are genetically improving every year so they are easier to grow and are larger than before.

In previous years, Engel said, his white pumpkins were softball size. Now they are nearly as big as basketballs and easier to carve. (The inside of the white variety is still orange.)

Engel said he also has some very small white pumpkins, which are often used in fall decorating.

Harder to grow

The Pick-a-Pumpkin Pumpkin Patch in Schoharie County opened for business last Saturday and is expecting between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors throughout October, according to owner Lois VanDerwerken. While the VanDerwerkens have always had good luck with pumpkins on their farm, the one variety they’ve given up on is the white ones.

“They were always kind of marred and not a pretty sight,” VanDerwerken said.

VanDerwerken said they never had any trouble selling them, just trouble growing them.

“We sold enough of the other kind that we didn’t have to work at the white ones,” she said.

Chuck Bornt, regional vegetation specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, said he thinks the popularity of white pumpkins is attributable to their uniqueness. However, he said they are a harder variety to grow.

“They are a novelty item,” he said. “They are more environmentally sensitive. You have to have all your ducks in a row for them to do a good job.”

New York state ranks third in the United States in the value of its pumpkin crop. The 2007 crop was valued at $22.7 million for 110 million pounds of pumpkins grown on 7,000 acres.

Bornt said most of the farmers he’s visited have reported a banner year for pumpkins.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to seems to have a good pumpkin crop, despite some discouraging reports,” he said.

Bornt said the amount of moisture throughout the year added to the quality of this year’s crop.

However, he said, it wasn’t an easy season, with a fair amount of hail damaging some blossoms and the unusually wet summer, which may have impaired a few varieties.

He said problems largely depend on a farm’s location and luck.

“It just depends on where the clouds opened up,” he said.

Don Smyers, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie County, said any problems with pumpkins this year might be due to a lack of adequate pollination. Pumpkins rely on bees and other pollinators. Honey bees are suffering from a phenomenon called Colony Collapse, which causes entire colonies to die and is largely unexplained.

Statewide, pumpkin prices are up about 10 to 20 percent.

At Engel’s, pumpkins are 10 cents more per pound than last year, making the average price for a large carving pumpkin about $12.

“Fertilizer is twice as much, fuel is twice as much and labor is costing us a lot too,” Engel said.

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