Bumper pumpkins: Hot, dry weather didn't squash this squash in Central Illinois
ARTHUR, Oct 13, 2012 (Menafn - Herald & Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Like other farmers this year, Mac Condill of the Great Pumpkin Patch near Arthur didn't know for sure how the season would turn out.
Hot, dry weather causing plants to droop this summer didn't help his nerves, but enough rain fell starting in August to lead into what has turned out to be an enjoyable start to the fall.
"I was nervous for sure," Condill said. "Now, the farm looks just perfect. We couldn't be happier."
Condill and other area pumpkin growers say they are experiencing one of their best seasons in recent memory, despite the drought this summer that hurt other producers.
The weather conditions helped the pumpkins thrive, said co-owner Shirley Johner of Black Bart's Pumpkin Patch near Warrensburg. With a frost already taking place, vines have stopped growing, but a large supply had already matured, Johner said.
"We've had a real good season," Johner said. "There's still plenty in the field to get all hauled in. This is one of the best crops we've ever had."
With such a large supply, Johner said their focus is turning toward being able to pick all the pumpkins to be sold.
The pumpkins at Buxton's Garden Farm near Sullivan turned out better than co-owner Paula Buxton might have been expecting, considering the weather. In particular, the farm's giant pumpkins turned out well, with Buxton saying one weighed in at 187 pounds.
The area's apples, peaches and other fruits didn't fare so well. Even before the drought became apparent in July, co-owner Jim Bailey of Okaw Valley Orchard near Sullivan knew he wouldn't have any apples to be picked this fall and began setting his sights toward next year.
A warmer than usual March, followed by a typical frost in April killed off the already blossoming fruits, Bailey said. Now, he hopes rain this fall helps next year's supply.
"We're in pretty good shape," Bailey said as late-season rain has been falling.
This year was the first time since starting operations in 1980 that Bailey has seen their fruit supply wiped out.
"I've never seen anything like it," Bailey said.
Despite the challenges, the business has been able to remain open to visitors this fall, Bailey said.
For those interested in coming to the orchard, Bailey said they were able to ship in apples from Southern Illinois and northern Michigan. But even that supply is starting to run out, and Bailey encouraged those wanting apples to stop by in the next weekend or two as he anticipates closing early for the season.
How long the supply lasts will depend on the weather and how soon people visit, Bailey said. Customers are needed now for them to be able to look forward to trying again next year, Bailey said.
Although their main crop has done well, some adjustments have had to be made at the pumpkin patches, too.
Corn didn't grow tall enough for the normal maze at Buxton's, the first time in about 10 years it has not been able to create one.
"It's very disappointing," Paula Buxton said. "It's usually a lot of fun. It will be different this year, but you roll with it like a true farmer."
Other places, including the Great Pumpkin Patch and Black Bart's, were able to grow enough corn to put together mazes. Condill said it helped that the corn for its maze is planted late in the season just for that purpose and enough rain fell to move its growth along sufficiently.
The corn for the maze at Black Bart's is tall enough and has remained standing, which is what counts in a year like this, Johner said.
As Halloween approaches, Condill said the Great Pumpkin Patch is in great shape with a diverse supply of produce from which to choose, along with plenty of activities.
"We have more produce than ever before," Condill said. "I don't remember as good of a crop in recent years."
Johner is hoping any rain holds off on the weekends, allowing for all those who want to visit to make the trip. She doesn't mind the temperature cooling off, either.
"The cool-down in weather helps," Johner said. "It puts a lot of people in the mood to visit when it starts to feel like fall."
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