By IKE WILSON
The Frederick News-Post
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — October begins the peak time for pumpkins, and local growers are poised to take advantage of the market the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes as limited and seasonal.
Pumpkin-buying is a farm experience for many families, and growers such as Mary Jane Roop have capitalized on that experience.
The pumpkin industry is finding more and more people interested in experiencing life on the farm, said Roop, who co-owns and runs Brookfield Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Thurmont with her husband, Sam.
“So when they come, we try to hit all the five senses,” Roop said.
In addition to picking pumpkins in the field, Brookfield also offers hayrides, close encounters with animals and eating at a picnic table. Some people walk all 14 acres of Brookfield’s pumpkin patch, Roop said.
“Our customers tell us they appreciate our farm because it has not been commercialized,” Roop said. “If they want a $1 pumpkin, that’s available, too.”
The no-admission patch and farm is the family’s way of promoting agriculture by keeping it affordable and inviting, Roop said.
Business has grown from one acre to a 14-acre pumpkin patch. There are so many articles lately about the benefits of consuming pumpkins, including the benefits of beta carotene, Roop said, but you can also decorate with the fruit.
Pumpkin Varieties Abound
Even longtime growers such as Mehrl Mayne marvel at the variety of pumpkins available today.
Mayne began to grow pumpkins in 1993 as a marketing tool to get people to see his Christmas trees. Today, he grows 15 pumpkin varieties at Mayne’s Tree Farm in Frederick.
“The orange color is the most popular, but the red and blue ones are next in line,” Mayne said. “They’re good for decorating and pies.”
So many pumpkin varieties resulted from field tests and genetic work by scientists to see which ones do well, he said. Some pumpkins are more disease-tolerant than others, and others have a better structure and consistency, Mayne said.
Mayne is planting more pumpkins on fewer acres thanks to genetic work, and this year, “I have some of the largest crop of large pumpkins ever,” he said.
About 100 of them range from 80 to 160 pounds.
The University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources recently published a list of pumpkin-picking tips on its website:
“The pumpkin should be hard all the way around without any soft spots.”
“It should have nice, full color. Different shades of orange or even white are fine but avoid pumpkins with dark spots or discoloration.”
“It should have a sturdy stem or handle. A stem that’s wilted or softening indicates the pumpkin has already started to rot.”
“Pumpkins tend to like it to be a little cooler,” said Bryan Butler, an agriculture and natural resources specialist with University of Maryland Extension, on the website. “They do better to the north of us than to the south. We’re in this weird zone of in-between.”
“The ongoing drought and extremely hot summer did take their toll on pumpkin crops around the Free State,” the website says. “Some pumpkin growers who weren’t able to water frequently saw a 30 to 50 percent reduction in their yields, says Butler, but there should still be plenty of pumpkins to go around this season. Between now and Halloween is the perfect time to bring one home.”
According to the website, Mike Newell, horticulture crops program manager at the College of AGNR’s Wye Research and Education Center, suggests keeping it “outside where it’s cooler but try to find a spot where it’s sheltered and can stay dry.”
“If you’re going to carve it, wait until Halloween or the day before because they don’t last long once you start cutting into them,” he said, according to the website.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)