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Cool summer could mean fewer pumpkins this fall

Pie makers and jack-o'-lantern carvers may want to nab a pumpkin while they can. A cool summer in Minnesota, and much of the Midwest, could result in fewer pumpkins for sale this fall at farmers' markets and retail outlets.

"It was too cold of a summer. The heat wasn't there," said John Blonigen, who grew about an acre of pumpkins this year on his 6-acre vegetable farm near Paynesville. He sells to local retail outlets. Instead of the usual four to five pumpkins on a vine, he's seeing two to three.

"I don't know if there's going to be enough for everyone," said Blonigen, who countered his concerns in true Lake Woebegone fashion. "But it's not too bad. I've seen worse."

The cool weather will no doubt affect Minnesota pumpkin production, said Terry Nennich, a University of Minnesota extension educator who specializes in growing and marketing fruits and vegetables.

"The pumpkins may not make it," said Nennich.

The timing of a killing frost "will pretty well tell the story," he said. If that doesn't happen for another seven to 10 days, there may be enough time to salvage a crop.

Nennich said he's even talked to pumpkin farmers as far south as Indiana who are worried the cool weather there will reduce production, or that pumpkins won't be mature enough to ship.

In the northeastern part of Minnesota, too much rain has ruined much of the pumpkin crop there.

"The yield is going to be down," said Nennich. The higher price currently being charged for pumpkins "is an indication to me there may not be as many around."

Ninnich predicts the lack of heat units for the warm-season crop will result in fewer pumpkins overall, but he said there are pockets around the state where pumpkin production will be OK.

David Frank, who planted about three-quarters of an acre of pumpkins this year on his family's vegetable farm near Pennock, said his pumpkins may be a little smaller this year but the numbers are good.

"I'm pleasantly surprised with the number of pumpkins that's out there this year, considering the weather we had," said Frank.

"The weather is 100 percent of the deal," said Frank." Whatever we (growers) do is just minuscule."

Nennich planted nearly six acres of pumpkins this year on his vegetable farm in northern Minnesota near Bagley. By using a plastic mulch that generated extra heat, he was able to produce one of the best pumpkin crops he's had in years.

He's already sent 60,000 pounds of pumpkins to market.

Nennich said some growers started the season by selling pumpkins at a lower price to make sure they didn't lose money, but he's seeing the price steadily creep up as the supply gets tighter.

A price of 40 to 50 cents a pound for pumpkins won't be unusual this year, said Nennich. "Suppliers just don't have them," he said.

Price will depend on where pumpkins are purchased.

Frank said he's selling small pumpkins for 50 cents each and larger ones for about $4.

For those who do buy pumpkins, there are steps to take to keep them looking nice through the fall holiday season.

Nennich recommends wiping the exterior of the pumpkin, especially by the stem, with a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water to remove bacteria and diseases.

Blonigen said pumpkins are like "a bouquet of flowers" that he enjoys growing for people -- especially kids.

Nennich agrees there's something special about watching pumpkins grow, even when it's your business. "Some people like to play golf every day and some people like to do this."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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