WASHINGTON – This year’s pumpkin crop looks to be something even Charlie Brown would be proud of.
Despite an unusually cool and rainy growing season that could have hurt Maryland’s pumpkin crop, farmers and state officials say that not only is there a good supply of pumpkins this year, but those that survived the summer should be just as orange, plump, and well-shaped as always.
Buyers can expect to pay about the same as last year for their pumpkins, a retail cost of 30 to 40 cents per pound at local markets and farms, said growers and experts.
“There will be enough for the kids,” said Bob Rouse of the Wye Research and Education Center on the Eastern Shore.
“I’ve got the best pumpkin crop I’ve ever had,” said Tom Wheatley of Wheatley Produce in Caroline County.
Farmers have already started harvesting pumpkins and some can be purchased from markets, roadside stands and pumpkin farms around the state. Or, if they prefer, families can visit an area farm that offers entertainment as well as an area to choose their pumpkin and carve it onsite.
William Gallahan, owner of Cherry Hill Farm in Fort Washington, has been entertaining children during the haunting season for 40 years and has watched his niche business continue to grow.
At Cherry Hill Farm, children can take a tour through a cornstalk maze, experience Thanksgiving of the Puritan days, and take a hayride before picking their pumpkin. Gallahan said he expects 30,000 school children to visit this year, not including families who may stop by.
Gallahan is not the only one in the state whose business is growing. From 1964-1997, Maryland tripled its number of pumpkin farms. The harvest of pumpkins, which used to be known as the stepchild of crops, was five times greater in 1997 than it was in 1964, according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.
Over the past five years, about 1,250 acres of pumpkins have been harvested each year. With an average yield of 10 to 15 tons of pumpkins per acre, that adds up to more than 12,500 to 18,750 tons of pumpkins grown in the state each year.
Pumpkins need adequate drainage and frequent spraying in order to thrive. If too much rain falls, they cannot survive. A disease of the Phytophthora species, which thrives in wet weather, killed some of the state’s pumpkin crop in this unusually rainy year.
Rouse said growers may have to shuffle some pumpkins around from different areas to accommodate each areas’ demands. The healthiest of these go to markets for Marylanders to purchase, then nest in windowsills or on front porches after carving.
Maryland agriculture officials said it was too early to quantify this year’s crop, but said that they expected it to be the as large or larger than last year’s crop.