BROOKEVILLE – Chuck Sharp’s pumpkin patches at Waterford Farm are a pleasing picture: the basketball-sized globes shine beneath a frilly cover of brown, curling leaves.
Only at the edges of the fields, where Sharp’s irrigation gun did not reach, can the effects of Maryland’s ongoing drought be seen clearly.
The state’s pumpkin crop is patchy this fall, with dry weather slowing growth and heat cutting yields. Farmers who were able to irrigate salvaged quality and size in their crops, but even they reported much smaller yields than normal.
At the far ends of Sharp’s 20 acres of pumpkin land, the leaf cover is still green, and the few fruits beneath them a darker, smooth green, both signs that the vines have not fully matured due to lack of sufficient water, Sharp said. Many farmers anticipate this problem and irrigate the fields regularly.
“That’s what made our crop so beautiful,” said Waterford farm manager Cheryl Nodar. “It’s a lot more work to irrigate, but it certainly pays off.”
But the lack of water is not the only ghost haunting the pumpkin patches. The heat, farmers said, kept the bees that pollinate the vine’s flowers out of the fields, so the crop didn’t begin productively.
Robert Pumphrey, owner of Pumphrey’s Home Grown Vegetables in Millersville, produced good-quality, well-sized pumpkins by irrigation, but low bee pollination cost him his yield.
“There’s not as many out there as there should be,” he said. “We’re managing somehow.”
And Ridgely Boyer, owner of Boyer Farms in Severn, said he will be able to sell only a third of what his land is capable of producing because of the heat.
“It’s just a shorter crop,” he said. “The quality is good on what we have.”
Boyer said he will have to buy more pumpkins to provide for his retail customers.
Phillips’ Farm in Germantown will “have enough pumpkins to satisfy our retailers,” said owner Jean Phillips, but “we’re not going to be able to wholesale nearly as many.”
Jim Schillinger, 43, runs a family farm that has grown pumpkins for more than 75 years. Papa John’s Schillinger’s Farm in Severn has more than 80 acres of pumpkin vines, but produced only about half the pumpkins it should have this year.
“We wholesale a lot of them, too,” he said, but this year they won’t be able to sell as much.
Schillinger’s pumpkins are smaller than normal, and he had to raise prices just a little, but not enough to cover his losses, he said.
Most of the farms opened their patches to the public at the end of September or this past weekend, offering pumpkins ranging from palm-sized miniatures to hefty 60-pounders. Phillips’ and Sharps’ farms, among others, offer hayrides and corn mazes along with their pumpkin pickings. Although Sharp’s 520-acre farm has been open for two weeks, Nodar said, it’s only in October when the weather cools down that people “start thinking pumpkins.” – 30 – CNS-10-4-02