Pumpkins begin to pop at area patches
What does all of this year's summer rain mean for Southeast Missouri's pumpkin crop?
It depends on the farmer.
The wet weather's effect largely depends on planting schedules.
"We replanted three times," said Dianna Koenig of Perryville Pumpkin Farm in Perryville, Missouri.
Her family farm planted its first pumpkin crop in early June, when persistent rains caused flooding in Perry County and beyond. Remaining crops were planted later in the year, during drier weather.
The Perryville farm has two patches open for visitors to pick their own pumpkins on Sundays in September and weekends in October. There are two other patches where Koenig and her family pick pumpkins a few times a week to place in the yard for sale or to fill orders placed by customers.
They don't pick a whole patch at once, she said, which is different from the practices of a commercial farm.
Sarah Denkler, a horticulture specialist for the University of Missouri extension in Butler County, said many commercial farmers will begin harvesting pumpkins at the end of the month for wholesale. Their harvest begins a little later than Koenig's because they planted later, meaning they missed the worst of the rain.
"A lot of that rain, it was early on, so for watermelons and cantaloupes ... it was more of a problem," Denkler said. "Normally, because they plant so late in the year like this, it would have been OK [despite the rain]. But if you planted early in June, I can definitely see where that would be a problem."
Too much water can rot the seeds. Pumpkin rinds also are susceptible to diseases from too much water.
She said pumpkins are doing "OK" this season, and she has not heard many complaints from growers so far. Still, that doesn't rule out problems later.
"There are a couple of diseases that overnight can kill a crop, and that's what farmers have to look out for," she said.
Koenig's strategy for growing healthy pumpkins is to continue rotating crops.
"Rotation is key to keeping insects and diseases down," she said.
She stood in one of the patches Tuesday, pointing out ripe orange pumpkins and green ones that still need time on the vine. That particular patch is on a four-year rotation. In the off years, corn, soybeans and wheat are grown.
Rotating crops also helps prevent soil erosion -- another concern during rainy periods, she said.
Pollination is another important factor in pumpkin production. The Perryville Pumpkin Farm has its own beehives. The honeybees pollinate the plants and produce the honey sold on the farm.
"Pumpkins take lots of pollination," Koenig said. "The estimate -- it takes a bee 15 times it has to sit on a flower to pollinate that pumpkin, and the flowers are only open for a short amount of time."
This is the first year the farm has grown two patches open for handpicking by visitors. Last year's single patch was picked nearly clean, prompting the expansion. After seeing the yields of both crops so far, Koenig said the farm is fortunate it decided on the expansion.
"We're right to the wire of having enough pumpkins this year," she said. "We have fewer pumpkins, but we're going to have enough."
She also has noticed the pumpkins are a little smaller than they should be, although she has plenty of large pumpkins for sale.
Denkler said the growers she's contacted across the region have not yet expressed concerns about their crops.
"I think it looks pretty good," she said of this year's pumpkin crops. "Normally, I'll get some calls on issues with pumpkins, but I haven't really heard any this year."
The variety of pumpkins and gourds grown on the farm is apparent with one glance. Perhaps the only thing more interesting than the appearance of the many colored fruits are the names. From the front yard, where an assortment sits waiting to be taken home to become a jack-o'-lantern or the centerpiece of a fall decoration, Koenig points out the large white pumpkins known as white polar bears, the picturesque orange Cinderella pumpkins, speckled swan gourds with a striking resemblance to the bird and warty goblin pumpkins.
The farm also grows blue and pink pumpkins and a few that maintain the green color typically seen on pumpkins still on the vine. White pumpkins are especially popular, and the flat, easily stackable pumpkins were a best-seller last year, she said.
"Pinterest," she explained with a laugh.
Having such a variety of pumpkins and gourds is a preference of Koenig's. It also contributes to the farm's goal of exposing more people to agriculture, because the array draws a larger crowd.
Growing pumpkins started nearly 15 years ago as a project with Koenig's three sons and became a serious venture after it became so popular with the community. Her sons help every weekend on the farm, hoeing each of the patches spread across 12 acres by hand to keep weeds at bay. They also helped create an activity area for children made of hay bales and other repurposed farm materials. Other tasks are handled by Koenig's parents and husband, as well as a few members of her husband's family.
The farm and all of its amenities are all about the experience. Koenig considers her family farm part of the agritourism business, and she said the pumpkin patches are a way to help reconnect children and families with agriculture.
"That's the whole reason we keep going with the farm, is so people can come and see it," she said. "Most people are removed three or four generations from an actual farm."
1410 Allens Landing Road, Perryville, Mo.