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Plenty of pumpkins in Maine patches

Kate Collins | BDN
Kate Collins | BDN
Janice Minson, one of the owners of Calkins Farm Stand in Hampden, carries pumpkins to a customer's car on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Minson says that Calkins grow about 90% of the pumpkins they sell and that despite having to replant twice early in the season due to wet conditions, this year's pumpkins are large and plentiful.
By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

DAYTON, Maine — Keith Harris at Pumpkin Valley Farm, on the edge of the Saco River in Dayton, harvested a 57-pound pumpkin from his fields over the weekend.

“I would say we got the fertilizer just right,” he said with a laugh. “It has been a very good crop.”

There appear to be plenty of pumpkins in Maine’s patches, a dozen farmers reported. The prices here should not be affected by major pumpkin shortages in New York and Vermont that were caused by Hurricane Irene.

“We got 7 inches of rain on that Sunday, Aug. 28,” Darcy Pray, 50, of Pray Family Farm in Keeseville, N.Y., said in a telephone interview Monday. “I went to sleep knowing that the [Ausable River] behind my house was rising but there was nothing I could do to stop it. When I woke up, the river was right behind my house and my pumpkins were literally bobbing away in the waters.”

Pray watched his entire fall crop — some 20,000 pumpkins — float away.

“The money from those pumpkins would have gone toward next year’s seeds. We’re struggling along.”

As a result, he laid off three employees and began calling farms as far away as Quebec, trying to find pumpkins to fill his farm stand. “I found some in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but the problem is the expense of the trucking,” said Pray, who won’t be selling any pumpkins this year.

It was the second time this year that heavy rains and flooding affected Pray’s crops. “We lost 25,000 quarts of strawberries in May,” he said. Also, current crops that were still intact after Irene are unsellable because of potential contaminants from September’s flood waters. “The USDA called and said I can’t sell my tomatoes or my 12,000 heads of cabbage.”

Throughout it all, Pray said it never crossed his mind to abandon farming. “We’ve got our feet on the ground and we’ll try again next year,” he said.

Even if families don’t get to carve jack-o’-lanterns in New York, or make fresh pumpkin pies in Vermont this fall, Maine should be just fine. Hurricane Irene hit most Maine farms with just a glancing blow.

At Maine’s small pick-your-own farms, pumpkins were plumping well, bolstering an already better than average apple harvest. Several Maine producers reported getting telephone calls from Vermont and New York farmers who were seeking pumpkins, but most Maine operations are not commercial growers. They are small, family-style farms that grow just enough pumpkins for their own market.

Harris grows 10 acres of pumpkins and fall ornamentals — such as gourds, corn stalks and flowers — operates a farm stand, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and a corn maze. He said a wet spring did not affect his pollination and that he had plenty of pumpkins to go around at least for his own customers.

John Burgess at Burgess Farm in Newport said he grows a few acres, mostly for his own customers and local grocery stores, and his season is going well.

“It has been a great season,” Sandi Wiles of Pine Bluff Farms in Mount Vernon said. Barbara Seavey at Thunder Road Farm in Corinna said she got some calls about wholesale pumpkins from some Vermont and New Hampshire farmers but she only grew 10 acres this year for the farm’s own stand as other acreage was rotated and rested.

Rob Boothby’s pumpkin crop in Livermore is “half decent,” he assessed Monday, as he blamed a wet spring for poor pollination. “I guess we’ll have about 40 bushels.”

Lynn Oliver’s 10 acres of pumpkins at Treeland Farms in Hodgdon and Bill Spillar’s 5 acres at Spillar Farm in Wells are looking great, they said.

For a list of farmers that supply pumpkins, have pumpkin patches or pick-your-own pumpkins, go to www.getrealmaine.com.

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