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Pumpkin harvest positive

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | OCTOBER 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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As leaf colors begin to change and the Halloween holiday quickly approaches, Iowans are beginning to purchase a traditional orange decoration — pumpkins. 

Luckily for buyers, local pumpkin patch owners say the dry summer weather has yielded larger pumpkins.

Paul Rasch, the owner of Wilson’s Orchard in Iowa City, said the lack of rain is no problem for pumpkins, unlike other crops.

“Pumpkins seem to be [deeply] rooted enough that once they get established, the lack of moisture up above doesn’t matter so much,” he said. “The dry weather combined with cool nights brings a really rich color out.”

He said pumpkins are primarily “a cosmetic thing” for buyers to use as decorations for the autumn season. Therefore, how they look is very important, and this summer’s weather contributed to their appearance.

Iowa City resident Nikol Carlson said she has been coming to Wilson’s Orchard for years and has seen firsthand the effects of the dry weather.

“[The weather is] able to turn the colors,” she said. “Previous years, they have stayed more green, kind of like a watermelon, and the dry weather has helped ‘orange’ them up.”

The orchard planted three acres this year — about 2,000 pumpkins — and it has sold around 200 so far. But Rasch is sure business will pick up this month.

While this weather has been ideal for pumpkin season, it comes at the expense of one other major crop in Iowa — soybeans.

“We didn’t really get much rain in August and September, and that was a challenge for soybeans,” said Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. “I’ve heard some concern that yields may not be as good.”

Soybean plants need the most rain in August and September as the growing season ends. But this year, those crops didn’t receive the necessary rain.

But while soybean farmers scramble to salvage their crops, Rasch’s patch is not the only one sitting pretty this fall.

About 35 miles north of Iowa City in Atkins, Iowa, Bloomsbury Farm has seen similar results this season.

Bloomsbury owner Karen Petersen said pumpkins really do not need much moisture to grow.

“If you get too much moisture, you’ll get mildew problems and have brittle stems,” she said. “They just seem to do well in that hot, hot weather.”

She said some rain is OK during the summer, but right now, during the prime time for pumpkins, rain could be a disadvantage.

“The pumpkin will lie on the wet ground, and it will get soft on one side,” she said.

Petersen said the farm hasn’t seen a bad pumpkin season since 2009.

“We had way too much moisture and cool weather, and it looked like we were growing watermelons, I swear,” she said.

Regardless of the harvest, growers say they will make the best out of the outcome each year, and Rasch said he is thrilled for what is to come this month.

“The exciting thing is being around customers, especially little kids,” he said. “It’s fun to see the world through little kids’ eyes again, and pumpkin patches just bring their wide-eyed wonder to the world.”


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