Pumpkin picking part of fall family traditions

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Jim Dayton
Saturday, October 7, 2017

JANESVILLE—Three-year-old Shay Lachner has been looking forward to visiting the pumpkin patch at Skelly’s Farm Market all week.

Judging by the way he ran toward a pumpkin stand with a red wagon of gourds in tow, his excitement at the farm south of Janesville was evident.

Shay accompanied his mom, Christina Lachner, to Skelly’s on Saturday. They planned to buy a few pumpkins for carving and one for Shay to paint. He’s a little too young for carving tools, Christina said.

Whether they become jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkin pies or pumpkin spice muffins, the orange hallmarks of fall have arrived, and the Lachners and other families were ready to find a few for carving, baking or decorating.

Heather Ostenson of Janesville thought the overcast, breezy day was ideal weather for pumpkin picking. Coming to Skelly’s is a tradition for her and her family, and she believes selecting the perfect pumpkin, gourd or ear of Indian corn is a great way to make memories.

“Every year I come here. Every single year,” she said. “You cannot not come here. If you don’t, then you’re missing out on the doughnuts, the decorations. I love what they have to offer.”

Joe Skelly said his family got a good crop this year, netting high yields of the farm's 50-plus varieties across 20 acres. The pumpkins vary in size, color and texture because everybody seems to have a different preference, he said.

Pumpkins can be tough to grow. They are susceptible to root diseases, which can take years to eradicate from the fields, he said.

Because of that, Skelly’s recently went to an eight-year crop rotation to boost pumpkin production. The ground the family used this year had never grown pumpkins before and produced strong results, Skelly said.

Across town, a handful of vendors peddled pumpkins at the Janesville Farmers Market.

Melissa Whitten of Orfordville raised pumpkins with her dad growing up, but this was the first year she did it on her own. She started small with a quarter-acre this year and plans to expand to 5 acres next season.

Autumn’s iconic crop is planted in early June and harvested throughout September and October. A steady combination of heat and rain provided good conditions during the growing season, she said.

Pam Kuffer grows about 9 acres of fall vegetables such as pumpkins, squash and gourds each year north of Janesville. Neatly organized varieties sat in front of her truck stand on Main Street downtown.

The small, palm-size pumpkins are mostly decorative. Medium-size pumpkins are sweeter and great for pies. Large, bumpy pumpkins that are half-green and half-orange are called knuckleheads because of their texture, she said.

Summer rain delayed her pumpkins from ripening until recently, but production was still strong, and sales have been good, Kuffer said.

She and Whitten have been at the farmers market for several weeks. They were joined Saturday by Craig FFA members, who were selling pumpkins to benefit breast cancer research, FFA adviser Diane Runde said.

A national charity called Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation gave the chapter seeds that produce light pink pumpkins. Craig’s National Art Honor Society painted some of them a more obvious shade of pink with Halloween or breast cancer awareness themes.

Runde said she hoped to raise about $500 for the charity.

Back at Skelly’s, families flocked to the pumpkin stands or headed into the fields for a corn maze. Joe Skelly said that is one of his favorite things about this time of year.

“The coolest thing really is seeing the kids run around like these guys and finding ones to pick out,” he said. “Families are coming out and spending time together. It’s like a tradition. A lot of them come back year after year to find their pumpkins.”

Last updated: 6:48 pm Saturday, October 7, 2017

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