One benefit to growing slowly, over time, is that we’ve had the opportunity to hone in on what we really want to grow. Over the years we’ve stumbled into some crops that we’ve run away from, some that have made the list, and some that we could never imagine not growing. Dahlias are one of those crops that was an easy add for us—grows well in our climate, high demand, easy to harvest, I could go on and on. Conversely, after years of struggles we determined that gomphrena is not for us. Oh, well. Then, there are those crops that come out of nowhere that you never even consider. For us, ornamental pumpkins and squash are that kind of crop.
The next year, we soil tested. We found that our soil had a silly low pH and nearly no organic matter. We amended heavily with compost, limed, and laid down substantially more fertilizer. We also used biofilm and drip, to help with moisture retention and weed control. That year our yields were amazing! Across the board, healthy plants, healthy pumpkins, beautiful as we headed to fall.
Timing is critical, however. While our first successful crop of pumpkins looked great coming out of the field in early October, we found that we were a touch late for optimal sales. People wanted to be buying them in early-mid September. As farmer Aaron says, “When Labor Day, hits it’s time to put away those white pants, and start harvesting pumpkins.”
This year will be our fifth season growing pumpkins and we’ve keyed into the varieties that we like. Our sales are mostly to designers and wholesale customers (think retail nurseries and decorators), so the hues and shapes of what we grow are skewed heavily to the demands of that crowd. We love white pumpkins, green and brown pumpkins, tan and pink ones, bumpy ones, strangely-shaped ones—the weirder the better, for the most part.
Here’s a quick rundown of the pumpkins that we grow every year and love!
‘Jarrahdale’ (green), ‘Casperita’ (small white), ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes’ (Cinderella orange), ‘Blue Doll’ (blue), ‘Long Island Cheese’ (tan), ‘Porcelain Doll’ (pink), ‘Jill-be-Little’ (small orange), ‘Musquee de Provence’ (brown), ‘Black Futsu’ (dark green). These are all solid growers and sellers for us in all aspects of our fall sales. If you do you-pick or farmers’ market sales, growing some more standard orange carving or pie pumpkins is an easy add-on.
Don’t discount the use of edible varieties either. We find that the shapes of many edible squash are really attractive in fall displays, and the added bonus is you can eat them if they don’t sell! Acorn squash, turban squash, kabocha squash (particularly ‘Sunshine’), Hubbard squash, ‘Grey Ghost’, even delicata and butternut make a nice addition to harvest decorations.
There are a few gourds that we also grow to put into “gourd packs”, which are 5-7 pieces in a mesh bag for our grocery customers. Top varieties for that are ‘Autumn Wings’ and daisy gourds. Some are just for fun, like ‘Goblin Eggs’, ‘Speckled Swan’, and ‘Birdhouse’.
Add some broom corn, mums, and flowering cabbage and you’ve got a full slate of offerings for the late summer/fall shopper at farmers markets! If you have a design element to your farm, or do workshops, the simple addition of dried flowers or succulents to the top of a small pumpkin will thrill your customers and add extra sales.
Knowing that space is limited and there are hundreds of great varieties of flowers to grow, we still grow good quantities of these pumpkins, squash, and gourds every year. Having the extension into the fall, when flowers are petering out, really helps us to keep income rolling in. As we see continued improvement in the soil in our fields we have taken back some of the pumpkin ground for flowers, and will need to make decisions on who will get priority. But, for the time being, they are a great cover to discourage weeds and keep ground in production that we haven’t designated for more permanent crops.
While the maintenance on these crops is pretty low during the season, really just a quick weeding and continued water, once we hit the fall things do get a bit more labor intensive. Pumpkins are heavy and we are often enjoying the first of the fall rains when they are ready to pull out of the field, so prepare for mud and the cleaning that comes with that. Make sure to incorporate lots of squats and bicep curls earlier in the season to ensure that you’re ready to lift, come fall.