Delaware Public Media

Wet year yields lackluster pumpkin crop in parts of Delaware

Oct 6, 2015

If you're looking to pick a pumpkin in Delaware this month, you might find a harvest that's a little hit or miss. Farmers say wet weather this year in parts of the First State has led to some lackluster pumpkin crops.

Roland Pepper has run Mr. Pepper's Pumpkin Patch on his farm in Laurel, in southwestern Delaware, for 27 years. He says this is the one of the worst pumpkin seasons he's ever had.

"Seems like the special varieties, especially ones that are, like, white or warted or the neck pumpkins -- those types of pumpkins did not grow at all this year," he says. "And I'm not sure why. I don't know."

Pepper runs a pick-your-own patch on his farm in the southwestern corner of the state. He says heavy rainfall all at once this year might have been part of the problem.

"They don't like a lot of rain. Pumpkins do not," he says. "But they do need water, and if you get too much at one time in certain periods of the time, it's -- disease sets in and they're just not able to produce."

Instead, Pepper has had to truck pumpkins in from Pennsylvania and raise prices by about 25 percent. He says they still probably won't turn their normal pumpkin profit.

"Not that we won't make money, but it'll be limited," he says.

Elsewhere in the state, though, the pumpkin forecast looks a little better. Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming reports a great crop this year -- they say they didn't have the trouble with rain that Laurel did. Fourth-generation grower Michael Fennemore notes pumpkins "don't like to have wet feet."

He and Pepper grow pumpkins on a cover crop, where they're planted atop a winter field like rye. The rye fertilizes the pumpkins in the spring, and when the last of the pumpkins rot in the winter, it helps the rye come back.

Gordon Johnson of the University of Delaware's Agricultural Extension has worked with Fifer Orchards and Roland Pepper on that strategy. He says it helps protect the pumpkins from soaked soil to a point -- but some weather just can't be helped.

"Certainly, too much rain can be an issue anytime you have a crop that's sitting on the ground, like a pumpkin," he says.

Plus, they have to endure a lot of changes in climate -- they're planted in late spring and early summer.

But Johnson says most wholesalers got their pumpkins out in time to beat last weekend's nor'easter and the effects of Hurricane Joaquin. He says any gourds left on the ground -- like at pick-your-own patches -- might be a little quicker to rot before Halloween.