How to pick the best pumpkins in New Jersey
🎃 After a rough start, pumpkin picking season now looks good in New Jersey
🎃 Pumpkin prices run between 79 and 99 cents per pound
🎃 Have you been carving your pumpkin wrong all these years?
It’s October and that means many people will be going pumpkin picking with their families to find that perfect orange fruit to adorn their doorstep and Halloween decorations.
We talked to a couple of New Jersey pumpkin farmers to get their take on the crop for the 2023 picking season.
What is the perfect weather for growing pumpkins in New Jersey?
While pumpkin picking season is typically from mid-September to Halloween in New Jersey, the seed-growing season takes place around late May/early June.
“Ideally every day you seed you hope you get a half inch to an inch of rain. That will get the seeds germinating,” says Tim Stockel, owner of Happy Day Farm in Manalapan.
Pumpkins definitely like the water. Drip irrigation is the best on pumpkins or a gradual rainfall once a week. Mother Nature's rain is good but keep in mind that pumpkins do carry a lot of disease, Stockel said. A very popular one is the powdery mildew. Anyone who has ever grown zucchini or cucumbers may have seen powder stuff on leaves. This is not good for pumpkins or the plants.
Pumpkins also love the heat. The seeds germinate the best when it’s 80 degrees. They do like humidity to an extent. But they don’t like a lot of rain where they’re sitting in water for days at a time.
Spyro Martin, co-owner of Argos Farm in Forked River with his wife, Angela agrees. He said hot, summer temperatures and a good amount of rain throughout the growing season are ideal for pumpkins.
Along with drought, another major risk factor is humidity, which New Jersey has to deal a lot with, Martin said.
“That humidity creates conditions that are favorable for fungal diseases. That’s a huge risk for pumpkins. At the same time when we plant our pumpkins, we want to put them in well-draining soil to make sure that throughout the growing season if we’re getting too much rain, that that soil drains well because standing water will also contribute to fungal diseases,” Martin said.
Bottom line: Hot weather, a good amount of rain, and well-draining soil are the three components to a healthy pumpkin growing and picking season, both farmers agreed.
How does the pumpkin picking season look in NJ this year?
Stockel said it was a rough start to the season where things started off slow thanks to the drought. Then, recently, the consecutive days of rain did not help because the pumpkins were sitting in saturated fields. Many rotted off the vines.
But now, the pumpkin picking season is fine. “We try to start off with mid-September with pumpkin picking. But pumpkins in mid-September were still green. But they have since ripened. They are orange. We have a good crop and I believe most farmers do, as well,” Stockel said.
There were definitely some concerns early in the growing season in the summer because the weather was so dry, Martin said. But conditions improved, the crop finished strong and it looks good for the fall.
What are pumpkin prices this year in NJ?
Just like everything else, pumpkin prices have fluctuated a bit higher this year. But it should not be a sticker shock, Martin said.
He’s seeing a 1 to 3 percent hike in prices compared to last year.
Stockel agreed, saying he’s seeing between 79 cents and 99 cents a pound on pumpkin-picking farms throughout New Jersey.
What should people look for when pumpkin picking?
Never pick a pumpkin up by a stem, both farmers said. They are fragile and will break. Look for a strong stem that is still green. Make sure the pumpkin’s shell is hard by giving it a light thump on the side.
“We love that big, beautiful orange pumpkin but we love that big, green stem. It definitely adds to the beauty of the pumpkin that we pick,” Martin said.
If it’s a pumpkin you’re looking to carve, try to find one with a flat side.
What are some carving tips?
First, it’s important to clean the outside of the pumpkin before carving. Stockel suggests using a dish detergent and a wet sponge. Then, pour some hydrogen peroxide on a paper towel and wipe the pumpkin down. Now, it should be a clean, bright, sparkling orange color.
Both Stockel and Martin gave the same important carving tip that most people do not know and most likely have committed this offense. Never carve a pumpkin from the top.
If you carve a pumpkin from the top and put the pumpkin outside, the water from any rain is going to come through the top and rot it out much faster.
“You are actually supposed to carve the bottom of the pumpkin and you’re supposed to leave the stem on top,” Stockel said.
So, cut the pumpkin from the bottom, clean out the seeds, carve out the design, and then put the pumpkin over a candle (battery-operated is preferred to prevent fires).
“You’ll definitely get an extra week out of your pumpkin,” Stockel said.
“The most important thing is have fun while you’re doing it,” Martin said.
What is there to do at Happy Day Farm this fall?
Stockel said the farm grows 35 acres of pumpkins with more than 10,000 pumpkins available for picking. Happy Day grows 15 different varieties including white, yellow, and orange pumpkins, and gourds, too.
The farm offers a corn maze and a four-acre sunflower field with lots of photo ops.
During the weekends this fall on the farm there are 35-plus activities such as pig racing, a fun slide, a huge 30x60 corn pit where the kids can play, plastic duck racing, cornhole, a corn stalk tunnel, peddle carts, a pumpkin blaster, a paintball gallery, a corn shooter, and so much more.
If you’re picking pumpkins, Stockel said Happy Day Farm is selling sugar pumpkins for $3 each. Gourds are $2 each. Pumpkins are 79 cents a pound. The farm has not raised its prices on pumpkins in three years, he said.
What is there to do at Argos Farm this fall?
Argos Farm grow a few acres of pumpkins and there’s plenty for picking, Martin said. In addition to pumpkin picking, there are plenty of other activities to do on the farm.
There’s the corn haze and hay ride to keep that traditional fall festival alive. There’s a petting zoo, fun photo ops, a large hay slide, a small zipline, and a jumbo jumper.
Aside from activities, there are a lot of food options. Their most famous is apple cider donuts. There are also pies, kettle corn, specialty coffees, and drinks. For those looking for a more savory taste, the farm offers pasteurized pork and beef sandwiches.
So, whether you’re looking for a pumpkin to carve, one to just put on the porch, or one with a funky color and a crazy shape, there is a pumpkin waiting for you at one of the many pumpkin farms in New Jersey.
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Gallery Credit: Mike Brant