Unseasonably warm and dry conditions are keeping pumpkin pickers at bay, but local farmers say the dry heat is mostly a benefit to their crops.
With most farmers seeding pumpkins in early June to be ready for harvest in October, “the pumpkins were basically already sized up and made by the time it got dry” last month, Brad Milton of Brad’s Produce in Churchville said. “It’s actually good for a little bit [of sun] to harden the pumpkin and cure it.”
“This is one of the best crops we’ve ever had,” Milton said of his 14-acre pumpkin yield.
In Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Anne Arundel counties and most of Carroll County, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported moderate drought conditions Thursday. That could delay crop plantings or stunt crop growth and grain yields, cause wilting, elevate fire danger, and stress trees and landscaping, according to the monitor report.
Rainfall in the region was “pretty close to normal” until the start of “one of the driest Septembers on record,” said Luis Rosa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Last month saw just half an inch of rain across the region, which encompasses the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas, he said.
Combined with the unseasonably warm weather, like the record-setting 98-degree day in the Baltimore region Wednesday, it has led to “flash drought" conditions.
Rosa said the drought conditions are expected to persist through the end of the year, although rainfall forecast for Monday will mitigate some drought conditions “for maybe a week or so.”
Area farmers prefer the dry conditions to last year’s “catastrophic” record rainfall in the state, said Nora Crist of Clark’s Elioak Farm in Howard County. An unusually wet summer in 2018 ruined pumpkin crops across Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.
“The old saying is ‘a dry year will scare you, but a wet year will starve you,’ ” Milton said.
Pumpkins are fairly drought-tolerant said Steve Weber, proprietor of Weber’s Cider Mill Farm in Parkville.
“What they mind is wet weather,” which makes them more susceptible to rot and diseases, he said.
In Maryland, “pumpkins are looking good as most of them were harvested in early September,” according to Gerald Brust, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Maryland’s extension office. “Pumpkin quality is often tied to the amount of foliage that is not diseased,” he wrote in an email.
In some cases, the heat makes picking easier and the pumpkins hold up better, said Denise Sharp, whose family operates Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in western Howard County.
Crist said that while she thinks it’s going to be a good year for the pumpkin crop overall, she’s noticed “the vines have died back a little bit earlier, and the ground is really hot, which can also the hurt the pumpkins if they’re sitting in a field that doesn’t have vegetation anymore.
“Ninety degrees can make them go bad, fast,” she said.
David Hopkins, who operates Hopkins Produce on Level Road near Havre de Grace, said many of their pumpkins have been ready since late August, because of the summer heat and sunshine.
"We had some orange pumpkins at the end of August, which you don't want to have," he said.
If too many pumpkins are ready too soon, Hopkins said, farmers don't have enough pumpkins in October for Halloween. That isn't quite the case at his produce stand this year, he said.
“We’ve got a crazy amount of great pumpkins out there still,” Hopkins said.
While the heat has effected attendance at some patches, Homestead Gardens is “selling 'em like crazy,” said Dave Kemon, a supervisor for garden supply at the nursery’s Davidsonville location.
“Only problem was when we had that hot spell” in mid-July, he said. “We lost a couple — but that’s normal.”
In Carroll County, Lisa Showvaker of Showvaker’s Quality Evergreens, said her acre of pumpkins is faring well, and that the mid-July weather might have helped them.
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“If there’s too much rain, they grow too fast and they split,” she said.
What’s really affecting pumpkin sales is not the heat’s effect on the fruit, but its impact on pumpkin patch visitors and market customers.
“People don’t like to pick pumpkins when it’s 90 degrees out,” Milton said.
Crist said because of the heat, “I don’t think people are in the fall mood.
“I think we’re getting out of that now," she said. "Hopefully it will be a little cooler from now on.”
National Weather Service forecasts for Saturday show a high of 65 degrees during the day, rising to 75 degrees Sunday.
Baltimore Sun Media staffer Matt Button contributed to this article.