WESTMORELAND — The largest pumpkin ever recorded in the United States weighed 2,528 pounds, according to a Time article published in September.
The pumpkins at North Star Orchards aren't that big, but they're getting closer.
“The funny thing is, this year I find some of the pumpkins are a little bigger than they were last year ...,” said Michael Joseph, co-owner of the Westmoreland farm market, which also sells apples and other produce. “I think it had something to do with that rain we had late because we were so dry and then all of a sudden we got quite a bit of rain at the tail end of the season.”
As a result of this summer’s dry, warm weather, local experts agree that this year's pumpkin crop is a bumper crop, which makes for large, though not necessarily more expensive, local pumpkins.
Planted primarily in late May or early June, pumpkins depend on consistently temperate weather until they are picked in late September or early October. More rain causes more problems like mildew, fungus or blight, and can also make pollination efforts by bees more difficult.
A dry summer, on the other hand, is ideal for pumpkin farmers, as they can irrigate fields and better control the amount of water given to their plants.
"Especially for any vegetable growers that irrigate and have the capability to irrigate, then they control how much water and how it was applied,” said Jeff Miller, an agriculture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. "So when you can apply it the way you want … the foliage remains dry and disease free."
This summer’s weather helped create a strong crop, Miller said. It was a huge rebound from last year, when wet weather delayed pumpkin maturity and resulted in smaller pumpkins.
In New York state, 99 percent of pumpkins grown are used for decoration, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. Only a small number are used for baking or pie filling, and those pumpkins are usually marketed through fresh market wholesale and retail channels primarily within the state.
As a result, fluctuation in the pumpkin market doesn't generally create as large an impact as it would in other crops.
“I think they’re a little less vulnerable to pricing (changes) because of oversupply," Miller said.
Few farms around New York state only grow pumpkins, Miller said. Most vegetable growers typically grow nine to 13 different types of crops, though a few farmers may focus on a limited number like sweet corn and pumpkins.
North Star Orchards is one of those businesses that grow pumpkins in addition to other crops, which in its case include squashes, tomatoes, zucchini and blueberries. But it's apple picking that's the big draw this time of year, Joseph said; pumpkins are typically sold as a by-product.
In addition to seeing bigger pumpkins this year, Joseph said another trend is the interest in more “odd-ball” vegetables: pumpkins and gourds of different hues and shapes.
“We’ve definitely done more of it,” he said. “I dunno whether it’s the seed growers are coming out with more varieties, but … I’d say in the last three or four years we’ve done a lot more of it.”
Will larger pumpkins drive up the prices? It may depend on where you buy them, and if they charge per pumpkin or by the pound.
Joseph said his company has charged 40 cents a pound for as long as he can remember.
“We’ve been the same price on pumpkins for as long as I’ve worked here,” he said. "And I’ve been here ever since I was about 5 years old.”
Contact reporter Joseph Labernik at 315-792-4995 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Labernik).