Brittany Ballantyne

Social Media Director


Hundreds of pumpkins lined Main Street each Pumpkin Fest on Oct. 20 this year. But a pumpkin’s journey to the festival actually begins the previous spring, deep in the ground before it makes its debut months later.

“The process begins the year before. The farmers are looking at what people are asking for,” George Hamilton of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said.

Hamilton said “As a whole, I would say this is a good average year for the yield” which was proven by the abundance of jack-o’-lanterns that lined Main Street on shelves, sidewalks and scaffolding. He said one of the concerns farmers have is making sure they have enough of select varieties for their buyers.

Multiple farms are suppliers for C&S Wholesale Grocers, a company that donated more than 6,700 pumpkins to the festival, according to Patterson Farm’s Cynthia Roberts.

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Student Body President, Katelyn Williams, said the Keene State College Pumpkin Lobotomy alone calls for 1,800 pumpkins from Gladstone Farm in Vermont, which are purchased by Sodexo.

“There’s different sizes of pumpkins because you can get baking pumpkins, you can get carving pumpkins, there’s also a couple different varieties of pumpkins,” Richard Aldrich, pumpkin farmer of the 1780 Farm located in Chesterfield, N.H., said. He added the most popular pumpkin type is the traditional carving pumpkin.

Hamilton said during winter months, farmers make a decision on what varieties of crops to plant to determine in the spring which fields they will be planted in.

He said other factors a farmer can control are how much fertilizer to use and how and when to get the field ready.

The weather, however, is beyond a farmer’s control. “We can have it just rain right through the whole season, we had that last year. We had so much rain we had no pumpkins,” Aldrich said.

“Mother Nature really likes to throw curves in the growing season,” Hamilton said. He explained that with thunderstorms and rain patterns, one town might be affected while another town might not be.

“I could have a farm in one town receive a thunderstorm where just down the road a quarter of a mile they didn’t receive it,” Hamilton said. He said in the Keene area and especially in Walpole, N.H., a severe hailstorm destroyed many of the plants and fruits at farms this year.

Aldrich spoke about the consequences of a season where it rains through the blooming period. This prevents bees from getting out to pollinate blooms that do occur.

“Pollination is really important. Sixty percent of the food we eat requires pollination of some sort at least,” he said.

While some bugs are beneficial to the plants, others are harmful. Hamilton said farmers have to monitor crops during the season to keep an eye out for invading insects. One of these bugs is known as the “strike cucumber beetle.” When such insects invade, farmers implement various strategies to prevent bugs from laying eggs that will later bore through the plant.

Aldrich said, “Initially what we do is cover them [pumpkins] with a fabric that lets the sun and water through but not the bugs in.”

He mentioned another invader called the “squash bug.” Although the bug smells like candy when caught, according to Aldrich, it will decimate a young squash plant or pumpkin.

He said farmers, including himself, will protect the plant until it’s five to six months old, or “beyond the baby leaves,” but “then it’s on its own.”

Hamilton pointed out that last year was a wet farming season with less growing days and colder weather. He also said this year was an earlier spring, which contributes to having a longer, later, pumpkin season.

“Each year is a year onto itself. We [farmers] always joke when we say ‘I wish we had a normal year’ and that’s been truthful lately because either we have a short growing season or we have a long growing season,” he said.

Aldrich praised this crop season when comparing it to the past year. He said last year very few squash of any kind came into full form, however this year was the opposite.

“You’ll drive by the places that are selling pumpkins, you’re going to see a lot of green pumpkins out there which we haven’t seen in the past,” he said.

Normally, there is a 50 percent chance of a frost on Sept. 19 but, “each year we have to adjust what we’re doing according to that growing season,” Hamilton said.

When asked why he chooses to farm, Aldrich said, “We think that it is necessary for us to get back to basics when it comes to our food supply.”

Aldrich began farming with his wife four years ago and now his farm is a total of 35 acres. “The entire New England area has a three day supply of food and if for some reason we were shut off from the outside world, we would run out of food in three days,” he said.

Aside from farming for his own food and income, Aldrich said a huge part of his job is now about education.“We’re teaching the next generation what real food looks like, how to eat in season, buying local,” he said.

Hamilton added, “regardless of what happens, go out and support your local farmers.”


Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at


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