By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – This year’s pumpkin crop is plumping up nicely.
This weekend marks the official start to pumpkin patch season in Northeast Mississippi. The various patches opened, welcoming kids, families and groups into a fall agritourism playground.
Many come for the primary icon of October – an orange pumpkin.
Holley Farm in Fulton planted about six acres of pumpkins in eight different varieties. They come in all different sizes. But, visitors aren’t quite able to see them from afar – yet.
“The pumpkin vines are just beginning to die down,” said Jan Holley, one of the owners of the family farm. “You aren’t going to see a field of orange like you would two to three weeks from now.”
This year’s crop looks good as far as pumpkin size, quality and color, said Mark Holley, the farm’s pumpkin specialist. But, he suspects the quantity will come in under the regular mark of 1,000 pumpkins per acre.
The prime culprit? Bees and a lack of pollination.
“It really takes more bees that what exists naturally,” Mark Holley said. “We had parts with high pollination last year. The difference is hard to say. Rain? Temperature?”
Added Jan Holley, “It’s something that you need if you grow pumpkins – you need bees. … We’re fifth generation row crop farmers and we’ve found that pumpkins are not easy to grow.”
The farm used to have four hives nearby and now there is only one. The Holleys planted several acres of flowers around the pumpkins to help draw bees.
Plus, pumpkin blooms are easily influenced by the weather. And, a bee has to move between male and female flowers in order to pollinate the female.
“Everything will kill a pumpkin,” Mark Holley said.
If the temperate gets above 93 degrees, the pollination won’t take.
“If it rains that day, the female that bloomed that day won’t make a pumpkin,” he said. “In good conditions, you have three days to pollinate.”
Glynda Wise Coker said her pumpkins at Wise Family Farm in Pontotoc County also had a problem with the weather. The early dry weather and then a spurt of cold weather early on hurt germination, she said.
But, Coker’s outlook is a lot better than the past two years for her field.
“It’s 50 percent better than last year,” she said. “We’ve got pumpkins and we’re looking forward to having a pumpkin patch.”
The cooler weather of the past two weeks has been good for the pumpkins at Holley Farm.
Mark Holley started seeing the first pumpkins at the beginning of September, with the first orange ones showing up about a week ago.
The pumpkin crop at Pumpkin Patch Farms also is benefiting from cooler weather in Blue Mountain.
“It’s looking pretty good right now, but we can’t tell until everything is over and done,” said owner Clay Meeks.
He planted 20 acres of pumpkins this year.
“We’ve still got a bunch of pumpkins in the field that are setting fruit. If they do what we’re hoping their do, we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said.
It’s different story from two years ago, when the region was inundated in excessive rains and the pumpkins were floating in the fields. Other growers had to shut down their patches, saying the pumpkin quality was too low to sell.
At least 20 percent of the state’s pumpkin crop was lost in 2009, according to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
This year, Mississippi pumpkin growers said so far, so good. But, other parts of the country are reporting problems.
Pumpkins growers in the Northeast and along the Atlantic are reporting damage from Hurricane Irene. Growers in Texas were hit by a long, hard drought and are buying pumpkins from out-of-state and getting those put out in the fields.
In Pontotoc County, the Wises planted an acre, and Coker is hoping she’ll have enough good quality pumpkins for everyone. If not, the Wises will buy pumpkins from elsewhere for their patch.
Adkins Farms in Booneville also is concerned about having enough pumpkins this year for visitors.
“We didn’t plant what we needed,” said Charlotte Adkins. “What we have looks good, but we don’t have enough.”