Pumpkin farms in the region are making adjustments to something like a post-COVID season, one that also follows a drier than normal summer.
“The dry weather definitely had an impact on everything,” said Karen Good of Good Family Pumpkins, which sells more than 100 varieties of squash, pumpkins and gourds just east of Waterloo.
“You just never know what you’re going to get from one year to the next; our stuff this year was a little smaller than what it normally is. So some of our pumpkins that usually get a little bit bigger are now just a little smaller. And some of the squash that usually get five or six on a vine only got maybe three or four,” Good said of the weather’s impact.
“Usually you can almost count on at least around an inch of rain every week. That’s really nice growing conditions. We didn’t get that at all this year,” She added.
The Downey family’s pumpkin patch and apple orchard near Breslau also saw the impact of a drier growing season.
“Our fruit wasn’t able to size up in the way we wanted it to. So we had a lot smaller production this year. We’re not on irrigation or anything, so we lost a little bit of production, but it wasn’t a huge impact,” said Tyler Downey.
Benjamin Tree Farm, which is run by Gerard and Sarah Demaiter has had a “good season overall.”
“We’ve had colder weather earlier this year, which is not conducive for families that want to come outside and do things like enjoy the fall because it has been colder. It’s also been I would say, maybe a wetter fall which is a good thing considering how dry it was this summer,” Gerard said.
“The majority of customers want to come out on the weekend, and I think overall, we’ve had a pretty good run of weekends where it’s been sunny. That’s been good, because if it rains all day, it’s basically a write-off. But overall, I would say the weather’s been favourable on the weekends,” he said.
While other businesses took a hit during the pandemic, farms like these experienced an increase in customers.
“It started forcing people to do more things around the community. And finding easy entertainment, [while] they couldn’t travel or leave the country. So then we just started getting really busy. So, honestly, COVID kind of helped us in a way because people couldn’t really go anywhere they had to do stuff around them,” Downey said.
Good saw an increase of people wanting their products for decorations while they were staying home.
“So they weren’t going to the cottage for Thanksgiving. They weren’t going on any kind of vacation at Thanksgiving or Halloween or wherever in the fall. They were staying at home. So they wanted to decorate their places and make it look nice,” she said.
Benjamin Tree Farm, which has been selling Christmas trees since 1986, started selling pumpkins in 2020. Although they do not have experience selling pumpkins in a non-COVID year, they are not making huge adjustments for the current season.
“Nothing formal, by any means. But just what will be will be, what happens is what happens. This is a whole new business venture – it’s been a big learning curve for us,” Demaiter said.
The tree farm, which also has a corn maze and a playground aptly named “Spooky Sands,” has been seeing increase in school field trips, which Demaiter attributed to the provincial government’s plan to get kids back on track.
“Field trips are part of what they want to promote. We have a class every morning and every afternoon for the four weeks of October, which has been great. We’ve had really good feedback from teachers about the tours that we’ve been offering. So that is new this year. Last year we only did about five tours, and this year we did five tours in the first two days,” he said.
To keep customers engaged, the Downeys have added a corn maze to their location.
“What really encouraged me to do a corn maze was people coming here for the afternoon to come pick apples and there’s so many apples picked – their kids were filling the bag so fast – I was like, ‘OK, I want to provide people with more things to do,’” Downey explained.
They also feature a 1,000-pound pumpkin grown by a neighbour and plan on adding more apple trees in future years.
“We put in four acres of trees last year, about 3,500 trees we put in, and this year we put in an additional 7,500 trees. Every year from now on we plan on growing a couple thousand trees a year,” Downey explained.
Although their apple season is over, the Downey farm will remain open until October 31. Benjamin Tree Farm will also close on Halloween and re-open to sell Christmas trees on November 19. The Goods will be selling squash until mid-November.