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Tom Weekly poses in front of some of the pumpkins and gourds he harvested on his farm, Weeklyville Farm, in Athens, Ohio, this fall. This crop season has had different impacts on farmers, for Weekly, due to low amounts of rainfall his crop has produced less pumpkins. (HANNAH SCHROEDER | FOR THE POST)

Less rain could mean smaller jack-o'-lanterns this season

Ben Starkey described a fall without pumpkins as “flavorless."

“I don’t know what would be able to take its place. … Pumpkin is the flavor of fall. Everyone loves the smell. They associate pumpkins with fall,” Starkey, a junior studying history, said.

People, like Starkey, who are looking forward to carving pumpkins this Halloween season might not realize how much the pumpkin selection depends on the type of growing season farmers had. An especially dry season could mean smaller or fewer jack-o’-lanterns on many people’s porches.

Lack of rain this season has made growing a plentiful crop of pumpkins difficult for some farmers. However, other farmers were fortunate enough to get hit by enough rain for a successful yield.

Pumpkin Spice Latte fanatics need not worry, though. Pumpkins aren’t disappearing anytime soon. However, for many farmers like Tom E. Weekley, owner of Weekleyville Pumpkin Farm in Guysville, he experienced the driest growing season he has seen in his 53 years of living on the farm, reducing his yield by one-third of what he expects in an average year.

“I pride myself on not running out," Weekley said. "I came awful close (last year). There (were not) many left but I had some for the last day."

Weekley said he sees a lot of repeat customers who come from out of state for his extra-large “prize winning” pumpkins because he is one of the only farmers with them in the area. This year's “prize winners” are only about two-thirds the size they are on a good year, Weekley said.

“If I had plenty of rain they would have kept right on growing, and they would've gotten bigger and still been fresh looking. Some of the varieties like that decide they better hurry up and mature two weeks early,” Weekley said.

Last season was dry as well for Weekley, but not as dry as this season.

“The pumpkin season has been dry — really dry. It’s a drought here,” Weekley said. “I missed a lot of the rains that neighboring farms got. People like, two miles away from me, friends of mine — they get a couple inches of rain twice and I didn’t get a drop.”

Pumpkins are 90 percent water, making rain a crucial factor for growing preferable pumpkins.

In contrast with how Weekley fared, Bernie Fleming, owner of Keller Farms Landscape and Nursery in Columbus, said he considered this season to be above average.

“People were saying they had a total loss on pumpkins (this season) and I didn’t understand what they were talking about,” Fleming said. “We had some rain last week. If you went two miles, there were people that got just a little shower, and we got three inches of rain.”

Fleming’s successful season came despite the lack of rain that Weekley encountered as well. The reason for his success remains a mystery to him, he said.

“It’s all on the luck of mother nature. … We’ve been blessed. Sometimes we don’t challenge that, and we accept it good or bad,” Fleming said.

The cooler nights in recent weeks, Fleming said, have catalyzed people’s excitement for the fall season more so this year than in the past. A 90 degree evening is not the ideal weather for pumpkin patch exploration, he said.

“I think with the color changing of plants, the leaves and the fall leaves, that it puts people in a special mood — and sometimes more so than Christmas,” Fleming said.

So while some pumpkin patches like Weekley’s might be seeing smaller and fewer gourds this year, people are just as eager as ever to find that perfect pumpkin to decorate their home this festive fall season, Fleming said.


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