Pumpkins, fall events not a loss yet
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent September 9, 2012 9:28PM
Norm Harris shows two ears a corn, a normal size (left) and one stunted by drought conditions, at Norm's Pumpkin Patch in Lowell, Ind. Friday September 7, 2012. The difference in size of these ears, planted the same day in the same field, is typical of this year's crop. A non-drought stricken year would see more uniformity in size. Though compared to some farm fields that faired worse in the drought than his, Norm Harris feels fortunate his corn and pumpkins are as good as they are. His Norm's Pumpkin Patch celebrates its 25th year this fall. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 8:46AM
The effects of this year’s unusual weather patterns — early spring followed by summer drought — has had an impact on fall agricultural activities, but all is not lost.
While local fruit crops appear to have borne the brunt of the weather-related damage, local corn and pumpkins have fared better.
“The spring frost did cause problems. It did kill blossoms off,” said Nikky Witkowski, Purdue horticulture extension educator. Earlier this year some blueberry growers lost their entire first harvest. Now it appears apple growers are feeling the pain.
While the entire state was under some level of drought, Lake and Porter counties appear to have gotten enough rain to keep activities like corn mazes and pumpkin patches going forward.
“In our little corner here, we have been droughted, but we are not as bad as central and southern Indiana,” Witkowski said. The drought may have impacted yields on corn crops, but the stalks in the region still grew tall enough in most places for the traditional corn maze. In some southern parts of Lake County heading to Jasper and Newton counties, that is not the case.
Speros Batistatos, executive director of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said while apples may not be growing, it is too early to discount the draw fall colors and other agriculturally based activities mean to the area and the total number of visitors who come out this year.
“We are still riding the wave of a very successful late June and July. Visitation at the beaches and waterparks are way up,” Batistatos said.
Fall activities are often family traditions that likely will not stop one year because of access to apples or pumpkins. He said there are many mitigating circumstances that figure into a family’s travel plans. High gas prices, for example, will help keep people local this fall.
“I remain cautiously optimistic,” Batistatos said.
Norm Harris, owner of Norm’s Pumpkin Patch in Lowell, shares Batistatos’ cautious optimism about the coming pumpkin season and the boost in business the agri-tourism type activities mean.
Each year Harris transforms a part of his farm into a corn maze and you-pick pumpkin patch and tosses in a variety of family friendly activities like hay rides for a day of fall fun. The corn maze, he said, will happen. He is keeping a watchful eye on his pumpkins.
This is the second drought Harris said he has weathered since he began farming in 1988 and it is by far the worst. The 100-degree heat made it difficult for some plants to grow and for others to be pollinated.
“Bees don’t like to work on a 100-degree day,” Harris said.
Location will play a role in whether or not pumpkin growers saw success. Drought is not great for pumpkins, but it is better than too much rain, said Jenny Vanek with Scheeringa Farms in Highland.
Weather this year has been bad, but has cooperated when it was needed, she said.
“We will have plenty of pumpkins. Wet is way worse than dry,” Vanek said.
The farm offers pick-your-own pumpkins and activities like a petting zoo and hayrides. She said the farm used to have a corn maze, but it became too difficult to maintain.