By James Niedzinski firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — LONDONDERRY — With Halloween right around the corner, a prime pumpkin crop looks good for jack-o'-lantern fans. The crop is healthy and an improvement over recent years.
Wayne Elwood Sr., farm manager of Elwood Orchards, first began planting his pumpkin seeds in June, a little bit later this year because of the warm weather, he said.
Although Elwood Orchards only has about 3 acres of pumpkin patches this year, they bloomed bigger and earlier because of the low humidity and dry condition of the soil, he said.
In previous years, the pumpkins were not so plentiful.
The rainy and humid seasons in 2011 and 2010 provided the perfect atmosphere for insects, as well as for phytophthora blight, a fungal infection of fruit and vegetables.
George Hamilton, a field specialist with the University of New Hampshire Extension Service, said threats such as fungi and insects are less of a problem in New Hampshire this year.
"There was a major disease problem across the state in 2011," Hamilton said.
However, since most of this growing season was dry and humid, no fungus made a major impact on pumpkin crops, Hamilton said.
Mother Nature has other ways to destroy pumpkin crops, the biggest threat this year being the stripped cucumber beetle. The bug is most prevalent when bees have to pollinate the crops, making them hard to combat, Hamilton said.
Another pest is the squash vine borer. This moth lays its eggs near the vines of pumpkins and other crops. When the grubs hatch, they eat away at the stems and vines of crops, Hamilton said.
"I was at a pumpkin patch in Concord, I was appalled how bad they were," he said.
Although the problem has not been dire for every patch in New Hampshire, it certainty has not helped.
Elwood got an email from UNH, notifying him about the severity of insects, but he said he has not experienced many insect problems this year.
Patches at Mack's Apples have not been significantly hurt by any fungus or insect this year, farm manager Mike Cross said.
His crop last year was sparse due to weather conditions and fungal infections, Cross said, but this year his pumpkin patches are much more orange.
One patron of Sunnycrest Farms in Londonderry said the pumpkin crop looks different this year.
"I've noticed pumpkins all over are smaller," said Richard Hagen of Londonderry. "But the crop itself is more abundant."
In Derry, the 20 acres of pumpkins at J&F Farm are looking good.
Melissa Dolloff, farm manager, said the pumpkins at J&F are healthy and orange; there was no significant loss from insect infestations or fungi.
Dolloff said her pumpkins were planted around their usual time, toward the end of May.
Like other farmers, the J&F crop was ready surprisingly early.
"We could have picked in early August if we wanted to," she said.
Dolloff said the dry and humid conditions made for an early season.
"This time, the warm weather worked in favor for the pumpkins," said Gail McWilliam Jellie, the director of agricultural development for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture.