If you’re in search of a great pumpkin, this is your year. Area farmers are reporting excellent crops despite the summer’s wacky weather.
After last year’s soggy growing season resulted in a paltry pumpkin yield, growers took precautions to ensure that this Halloween there would be jack-o’-lanterns aplenty, no matter what Mother Nature decided to dish out.
This summer, farmers were plagued by different issues, including late frosts and a serious lack of rain. The less-than-ideal growing conditions took a big toll on hay, corn and fruit crops, but happily, farmers say their fields are producing a plethora of pumpkins.
Ken Macica, co-owner of Schuyler Farms in Schuylerville, lost about half of last year’s pumpkin crop to rot, so this year he invested in pumpkin varieties that are powdery mildew-resistant and he regularly sprayed his plants with fungicide.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that thrives in wet weather. It shows up as powdery, white spots on leaves and stems, and reduces the plant’s ability to perform photosynthesis. Last year, it did a number
on Macica’s crop. This year, it’s a whole different story.
“I hate to be bragging so much, but these are the best pumpkins I think we’ve ever had,” he said.
Although this summer’s lack of rain meant less powdery mildew even for farmers who didn’t plant mildew-resistant varieties, Macica said he still saw plenty of it in the area.
“I’ve seen other farms who I know for a fact aren’t using powdery mildew-resistant varieties because their vines were dead three weeks ago,” he said.
Macica’s vines are still thriving, and he expects to be picking pumpkins right up until Halloween.
Because of the combination of a wet early spring and dense, clay-ridden soil, Macica put his pumpkin plants in the ground about three weeks later than usual. That turned out to be a good thing, he said. The ensuing stretch of hot weather accelerated growth, so he has plenty of pumpkins that have just ripened.
“I see a lot of farms, they planted them on time, because they had maybe drier soils, but they ripened a month ago, and that’s not really what you want,” he said.
Ed Pavlus of Pavlus Orchards in Palatine said he’s had orange pumpkins since Sept. 1, but he’s confident his crop will still be jack-o’-lantern-worthy for Halloween.
He said a bit of powdery mildew invaded his two acres of vines, but despite that, this year’s crop is better than last year’s.
“The size of the pumpkins is down a little because it’s dry, but the color and quantity is good,” he reported.
At Hanehan’s Pumpkins in Saratoga Springs, extra acres of pumpkins were planted this year.
“We decided to plant more so that we would have more to choose from in case it was another disaster,” said Barbara Hanehan, one of the farm’s owners. “Last year, we ran into a problem with the pumpkins absorbing too much water and they were rotting so quickly.”
This season, some of the crop was lost due to dry growing conditions, but because more vines were planted, it’s not an issue.
“Our pumpkins are phenomenal this year. They’re just big, they’re beautiful, we have a lot of variety,” she said.
And because of the bounty, prices are a bit lower. Shoppers can expect to shell out anywhere from $5 for what Hanehan called a typical carving pumpkin to $25 or $30 for a “super giant” one.
Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs grows about 50 varieties of pumpkins, including Touch of Autumn, Trickster, Summit and Hooligan. New this year is Captain Jack, a beefy, dark orange specimen that sports a substantial stem.
“I would rate the crop excellent,” said farm owner Ned Chapman. “The drought had a nice impact on us, where we had a lot less disease pressure.”
Chapman’s price for carving pumpkins is holding steady this year at 49 cents per pound, but he said he’s lowered prices on a number of items, including sugar pie pumpkins and gourds.
Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, reports a healthy pumpkin crop statewide. Some farmers are reporting diminished yields and smaller pumpkin sizes because of the hot, dry growing season, he noted.