Where in Minnesota is Your Great Pumpkin?

Last May, in my family's backyard garden, we planted five varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of lettuce, plus fennel, squash, cucumbers, beets and onions. Oh, and one pumpkin seed that our daughter found on the floor of her first-grade classroom.

The first thing to ripen, the lettuce, was fantastic. The cool weather was perfect for nurturing those tender leaves. But the tomatoes were a major disappointment; not enough heat and humidity for them. And neither the fennel, the squash, the cucumbers or the onions had a great year. The beets, the last I saw of them, were just one day away from being picked when some nighttime visitor – a raccoon? an opossum? – got to them first.

Beware of pumpkin seeds: they can actually grow into pumpkins that will take over your entire garden.Photo, taken yesterday, of our Great Pumpkin.
And then, there’s the pumpkin, planted only because our daughter begged us to. For some inexplicable reason, the pumpkin has done well. How well? Let’s just say that our garden is no longer a garden, it’s a pumpkin patch. Everything else that occupied our rich, dark, amended soil has been overtaken by prickly green shoots adorned with 12-inch leaves spreading north, south, east and west. The pumpkin plant is spilling out of the fence and into the lawn where we can no longer mow the grass around it. It holds two healthy, happy pumpkins -- one bright orange and 18-inches in diameter; the other still green, maybe 30 percent smaller, about two weeks behind the other. Our daughter is thrilled.

Other Minnesota pumpkin growers, however, are less enthusiastic about this year’s pumpkin crop. They say the summer’s unseasonably cool temperatures mean fewer pumpkins this fall.

In a Star Tribune article last week, Terry Nennich of the University of Minnesota explained that “pumpkin farms… are worried the cool weather… will reduce production, or that pumpkins won’t be mature enough to ship.” And in northeastern Minnesota, “too much rain has ruined much of the pumpkin crop there.”

But as I combed through the list of pumpkin patches and farms throughout the state of Minnesota, not one mentioned a pumpkin shortage. There also seems to be no shortage of activities associated with pumpkins at farms and festivals throughout the state. So if you're in the mood for a pumpkin festival, here are some highlights, to get you started:

Nelson Farm celebrates its 20th annual Pumpkin Festival with a corn maze by flashlight on Friday and Saturday nights, a scarecrow-making contest, pumpkin-painting contest, live music, and pumpkin “recycling” (it’s what you think it is).
23618 Csah 1, Litchfield, MN 55355

Tom’s Pumpkin Farm offers a corn maze (this year’s theme is “The Land of Oz”), a hay-bale maze, even a special kids-only maze sized just right for younger children. And when they finally find their way out, they can get their faces painted.
15281 Panola Drive, Lindstrom, MN  55045

Cherith Farms follows organic methods in growing its pumpkins, as well as its tomatoes, gourds and other fall produce. They also sell their own pumpkins pies and free-range eggs, too.
27450 Raven Road, Belle Plain, MN 56011

Anoka County Farms has special hours for MEA break: 10 a.m. to sunset. While you’re there, the kids can enjoy pumpkin painting, pumpkin bowling, pony rides, and a jumping castle.
125 Bunker Lake Boulevard, Ham Lake, MN 55304

Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn differentiates itself from other pumpkin patches by growing pick-your-own flowers. If you also need tomatoes, onions or herbs, they have those, as well.
12860 Old Brickyard Road, Shakopee, MN 55379

Dimler Pumpkin Patch (no web site) outfits you with everything you need to pick your own pumpkins, including cutters and sacks. They’ll even let you drive your car or truck down the field roads so you won’t have to carry your pumpkins very far.
Intersection of State Highway 7 and Carver County Road 10, Watertown, MN 55388

Dehn’s Pumpkins (no web site) tempts you to spend the whole day there. There are plenty of  pumpkins -- both already picked and ready for picking -- plus wagon rides, a petting zoo, and farm animals to ooh and ahh over.
17270 125th Avenue North, Dayton, MN 55327

This is just a short list. You can find more information about Minnesota pumpkins, where to find them, and how to eat (or "recycle" them) at Minnesota Grown's Directory of pumpkin growers.