by Bob Groeneveld/Special to the Langley Advance
There has been plenty of talk this fall about a pumpkin shortage caused by the hot, dry summer and dearth of bees.
But local pumpkin patch operators are unfazed.
Robyn Duineveld at Port Kells Nurseries said there is some concern there… but not much.
“We’re just a little bit worried about running low,” she said a week before opening the pumpkin patch at 18730 88th Ave., “but we’re already contacting our suppliers just to make sure we have a back-up supply, just in case. It was kind of a hard year. We have lots, but we just want to make sure we have enough.”
Rene Duineveld said they actually have more pumpkins than they did last year, because they planted an extra two acres.
He was skeptical that a lack of bees might have had anything to do with lower yields.
“I saw lots of bees out there,” he said, adding that the unusual summer weather would have had a greater impact.
Meanwhile, at Aldor Acres in the northeastern corner of Langley Township, Albert and Dorothy Anderson were surprised to see news reports about any pumpkin shortages.
“I know that there were these things on the news – we saw it on TV,” said Dorothy, “but we didn’t water, and ours look really, really good.”
“Supposedly there’s a shortage of pumpkins because of the weather,” added Albert, “but that’s not our experience this year at all. Pumpkins like the heat. If they’re started before the weather gets real hot, they do well.”
In fact, the Andersons said, the unusually hot and the near-drought conditions proved advantageous for their 20 acres of pumpkins at 24990 84th Ave.
“Once we went through with the initial weeding, we didn’t get a lot of rain, and the weeds didn’t germinate as much,” said Albert, “so we got a really good crop.”
“You know, the way pumpkins have their leaves,” explained Dorothy, “the dew gets on them and dribbles down their stems right down to the ground.”
“We don’t irrigate [the pumpkins],” said Albert. “If you want to go for the giant 1200-pound type, then maybe you’ve got to give them a lot of water, but your standard 30- to 40-pound pumpkin can get a lot of water just out of the dew in this part of the world, even on those hot days. If you’re out up to the middle of the day, at the base of the plant you’ll often see a circle of moisture, and they’ll take that moisture up.”
Albert said that irrigating the pumpkins might make some of them grow larger – but that would come with a price. Wet pumpkin leaves can become diseased. “You can run into a problem of powdery mildew early in the summer, and all the leaves die off, and then it goes down and starts to rot the stems off,” he explained, “so we don’t use a lot of water.”
Dorothy noted that it’s easy to spot where a bit of misting from irrigation of nearby corn crossed to some parts of the pumpkin patch.
“But that helped the weeds, too,” she said.
The heat did ripen some pumpkins earlier than usual, but even that has posed no great difficulties at Aldor Acres, where there are “lots of pumpkins and good sizes,” said Dorothy. “They’ve been orange for a while, though we’ve got some that are still kind of green and turning orange. Some of the vines still have some goodness or juice in them that is feeding the pumpkins. Too us, the crop looks great.”
Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow, said Rene Duineveld, and there’s no such thing as too many, since leftovers at the end of the season get picked up by local farmers to feed their animals. He’s planning to add yet another acre to his pumpkin patch next year.
Of course, pumpkin patches are about far more than just pumpkins, as venues like Aldor Acres in Glen Valley and Port Kells Nursery help local families gear up for Halloween festivities.
“We’re definitely catered towards younger kids with all the activities here,” said Robyn Duineveld of her nursery’s offerings.
“We’ve got all the different animals… chickens, bunnies, pigs, and guinea pigs,” she said. The kids can get right up to them, but not in with them. “The kids can feed them, but they’re in their little pens.”
There’s an indoor hay maze, made out of hay bales, and outdoors there’s another maze made with hedging cedars.
They also have a sand pit for kids to play in, and a ball-toss area, plus lots more activities and sights to keep the young ones interested.
Included is a “child-friendly” haunted house – again, aimed at younger kids, but designed to give the more adventurous ones just a little more.
“The beginning half is not as scary, more catered toward the smaller kids,” said Robyn, “and then there’s an early exit out that you can take in case you don’t want to go through the scarier part”
But it does get a bit scarier past that: “I think there’s one thing that jumps out, and the rest kind of move and make noises.”
“And then obviously the pumpkin patch,” she added.
And no pumpkin patch seems complete without hayrides. Both Port Kells Nursery and Aldor Acres have horse-drawn wagons to make the trip to the fields, to pick the perfect pumpkins for Halloween.
At Aldor, that hayride might follow a visit with the gentle animals of their petting zoo, or the ride into the heart of pumpkin territory might come on the heels of an exciting pig race.
There are barns filled with displays for kids to explore, and the adults might wish to take in the Aldor Farmacy, where they’ll find fresh produce, homemade preserves, and honey from the nearby Campbell’s Gold apiary – honey that may well have been produced by the very bees whose pollinating excursions helped grow the big orange globes in the pumpkin patch.
And the sights are part of the fun, the Andersons agree.
“We’ve also got squash and that kind of thing… and gourds, we have a tremendous amount of gourds of different varieties. They’re really pretty,” said Dorothy.
“The last couple of years we planted sunflowers all around the perimeter,” added Albert. “A band of sunflowers 20 feet wide – even to a non-artistic type, that looks pretty nice. And the bees like them, too.”
Both pumpkin patches are now open until Halloween.
Port Kells Nurseries is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Aldor Acres welcomes pumpkin seekers 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day to Oct. 31.