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Dry weather brings pumpkins

Rob Winner —
Sisters Addie Osborne (left), 4, and Evie Osborne, 3, of St. Charles look for the perfect pumpkin Friday while visiting Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.
Rob Winner — Sisters Addie Osborne (left), 4, and Evie Osborne, 3, of St. Charles look for the perfect pumpkin Friday while visiting Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.

Halloween just isn’t the same without an annual pumpkin-carving ritual.

And there should be plenty of future jack-o-lanterns in DeKalb County fields this fall, thanks to some unusual weather.

The summer’s extremely hot, dry weather worried plenty of area farmers, but it didn’t do much to deter this fall’s pumpkin crop.

In fact, this is one of the best pumpkin crops Kevin McArtor has seen in a while.

“I think most people I’ve talked with have had good luck with the pumpkin crop this year because they typically like the dry weather,” said McArtor, co-owner of Jonamac Orchard, Inc., in Malta.

He said pumpkin farmers usually panic when the weather’s too wet because pumpkins are especially susceptible to fungus and mold.

Wade Kuipers, president and owner of Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park, said he was surprised to have such a good crop of pumpkins this year.

He grows several varieties in 25 acres, including white, blue and pink pumpkins in addition to the traditional orange pumpkins.

Kuipers Family Farm sells pumpkins by the pound, and Kuipers said that might slightly affect profits because the pumpkins this year are generally smaller and weigh a little less.

Joe Wiltse, field manager at Wiltse’s Farm in Maple Park, also noticed that pumpkins in his field are a little smaller this year, but expects a normal to above-normal pumpkin crop yield.

Wiltse said his family has been growing produce since 1955, and said just about every vegetable likes to get some rain about once a week.

Pumpkins are especially sensitive, he said, because it falls under the vine family along with cucumbers.

“We didn’t know what we were going to have,” he said. “We had requests for a couple of big orders [early in the season] that we turned down because we didn’t know what we’d get.”

He said he was surprised with how well his pumpkins turned out despite the hot, dry summer.

State Climatologist Jim Angel said DeKalb County still was in a severe drought by the end of September, which is the second-worst out of four drought categories.

“We had half the rainfall and twice as many warm days,” he said of how this summer’s weather to last year’s.

DeKalb County got a total of 32.14 inches of precipitation from January through September last year, compared with only 18.69 inches of precipitation in the same period this year.

As far as heat, Angel said DeKalb County last summer had 18 days of weather where temperatures climbed above 90 degrees. This year, there were 35 days above 90 degrees, and two days in July when temperatures reached 100 and 101 degrees.

Angel said the weather might take a toll on this year’s changing leaves, which could cause some trees to drop their leaves without any change in color at all.

“Summer conditions can stress trees and it tends to dull the colors,” he said. “That’s kind of played out so far. The leaves have color, but they’re not as brilliant as they were last year.”

The weather also took a toll on apple orchards this year. McArtor said Jonamac Orchard usually runs out of you-pick apples by the second week of October, but the picking ended about three weeks early this year.

Kuipers said his apple orchard also struggled. Weather warmed up in March, but turned much colder in April, which caused damage to apple trees. But Kuipers said compared to other parts of Illinois, and even other states such as Michigan, he was happy that he got any apples this year.

McArtor, whose farm is in its 29th season, said Jonamac Orchard had its best year ever last year and, so far, the weather has cooperated on weekends and he’s been seeing good crowds this year.

He’s looking forward to drawing more people in with the farm’s newest attraction, the “Pumpkin Howlitzer,” a cannon that launches pumpkins hundreds of feet in the air.

Fortunately, he’ll have no shortage of pumpkins to launch.

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