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Farm stands cope with numerous issues this year

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(DEBBIE BEHRENDS | dbehrends@shawmedia.com)
Pumpkins galore await shoppers at Grandpa's Pumpkin Patch in Sandwich.
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(DEBBIE BEHRENDS | dbehrends@shawmedia.com)
Larry Phillips, owner of Grandpa's Pumpkin Patch, shows an apple gourd painted bright red to look like an apple. In it's natural state, the apple gourd is green.

Weather issues this summer presented a variety of challenges, not only for Midwestern grain producers, but also for growers with farm stands.

Andy Anderson of Leland said problems cropped up from the beginning of the season with poor germination.

“What stands out, for me, is that with the drought, the germination rate was less than normal. I probably ended up with a third fewer pumpkins. Remarkably, I have some pretty nice pumpkins,” Anderson said. He said he had about a half acre planted in pumpkins.

“It caused me to work harder, though. The pre-emergence herbicide didn’t work because there was no rain to activate it.

“I probably have 300 to 400 pumpkins, basketball-sized or larger – good for carving jack-o-lanterns,” Anderson added.

Dave Gast in Earlville and Larry Phillips in Sandwich both agreed it was a good year for pumpkins.

“I had a lot of small ones – 2 to 4 pounds. And I had white ones for the first time this year,” said Phillips, who operates Grandpa’s Pumpkin Patch in Sandwich. He said he planted about 3 acres of pumpkins.

While Gast was pleased with the larger pumpkins he has for sale, he said he had some problems with bugs.

“We usually spray, but this year we sprayed several times,” Gast said. He said he had about 14 acres of pumpkins. He operates a farm stand between Earlville and Harding, and sells some of his produce to Phillips.

All three growers said they ended up with good squash and gourds. Phillips pointed out some large speckled goose gourds and apple gourds. He has painted a few of the apple gourds red so they look even more like huge apples.

“The gourds seemed to thrive through the dry weather,” Phillips said.

Phillips said his Indian corn did well; Gast didn’t have as much luck.

“It just didn’t pollinate very well,” Gast said of the multi-colored corn.

Neither Phillips nor Gast watered or irrigated their crops; Anderson said he spent three to five hours a day watering by hand.

“That took time away from other things I needed to do,” he said.

Anderson said his other produce was a mixed bag because of the weather.

“I had about an acre and a half of sweet corn and it was not uniform at all. And cultivating was tough because some was just emerging and some was too tall.

“We probably have another week of sweet corn, though,” Anderson said.

He said heat affected other things, like later planted onions. “They never got very big. They were browned on top but still growing slowly.

“Smaller seed plants like carrots, beets and lettuce had germination issues, too,” Anderson said. “We watered, but the soil dried so quickly that the plants died.”

Some of his produce did better after second or third plantings, and Anderson said he has figured out how to make adjustments next year.

Temperature affects apples

Knutson’s Country Harvest in Newark has apples available from its orchard, but won’t offer “u-pick” this year.

“We have apples, but we are picking them this year and bringing them in to the store,” Karen Knutson said. The store will have Jonathan, Fuji and Golden Delicious apples to sell.

“It wasn’t so much the dry weather as the temperature,” she said.

“It was so warm in March and then we had that frost and it got cool again in April. That really put a damper on things,” Knutson said.

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