March 4, 2010

Wet weather leaves pumpkins behind schedule

MECHELE COOPER

— By

Jake MacDougall, Pumpkins
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Jake MacDougall, Pumpkins

AP

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy AFIELD: Todd Hopkins, left, and Tom Stevenson stack pumpkins at the Stevenson Farm stand Thursday in Winthrop. Despite cool weather and heavy rain this summer, Stevenson is harvesting a good crop of pumpkins this fall at his family's farm in Wayne. "We tried to pick them early before disease set in," Stevenson said.

Kennebec Journal

Green jack-o'-lanterns might be the ticket this year.

The pumpkin harvest is a few weeks behind because June and July were wet and cool.

Jane Aiudi, director of the Maine Department of Agriculture Division of Market and Production Development, said growers who planted fields with good drainage did better than those in low-lying areas who had more difficulty getting plants started.

Aiudi said families may have to wait closer to the time little goblins hit the pavement before they can actually decorate with jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween.

''There may not be as many pumpkins, but there will be enough,'' Aiudi said Friday. ''We used to get our pumpkins a couple weeks before Halloween -- now people want them the day after Labor Day, and they're not going to be there.''

Aiudi said the recent warm days and cool nights should help bring out the color of pumpkins.

But Eric Sideman, crop specialist for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said pumpkins are frost-sensitive and a dip in temperature could hit at any time. If it does, there will be fewer orange pumpkins, especially larger sizes.

''June and July are relatively warm months when pumpkins are supposed to be growing like gangbusters, and they didn't grow at all,'' Sideman said. ''We should be going into the harvest season, but they're three weeks behind.''

Tom Stevenson, of Stevenson Farm in Wayne, sells his pumpkins at a farm stand on Route 202 in Winthrop. He said everything he planted is late this year, including pumpkins. Luckily, he said, his two-acre pumpkin crop didn't drown in the early rain so plants didn't rot. Now, he's worried about powdery mildew.

His workers are out in the fields picking the pumpkins as fast as they can before disease sets in, he said. Late summer is a common time of year for powdery mildew to show up and spread quickly to pumpkin leaves. If the disease reaches the pumpkins, he said, they will rot in the fields.

''We lucked out for some reason this year,'' Stevenson said. ''Our crops did well. I had a whole line of vegetables including tomatoes that did awful. They got the blight like everyone else's. Cukes, summer squash and zucchini all did pretty well -- it was just a matter of fighting disease.''

Stevenson said he is charging the same price as last year for his pumpkins, between $3 and $10 depending on the size. If the demand is there and supply is low, some growers may raise the price, he said.

''Hopefully, the demand is still there and people can afford to decorate for Halloween,'' he said. ''We got a lot of pumpkins!''

Andy Williamson of County Fair Farm, located on Route 132 in Jefferson, said his pumpkins are usually harvested by mid-September. But this year, he said, they're not going to be ready until the first of October.

Williamson plants 20 acres of pumpkins each year and sells them at his farm stand and others, stores and distribution centers. He also lets people pick their own.

''They're late and light,'' Williamson said. ''I have fewer pumpkins than usual. It's just a delay in planting because of the wet spring and poor growing conditions.''

Williamson said income from the sale of his pumpkins will be cut in half. He also will have to charge a little more this year.

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