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All 'hail' the Great Pumpkin

Where have all the pumpkins gone?

With another Halloween holiday now upon us, many local residents have noticed the absence of the large, round orange vegetables from lawns and doorsteps this year.

Oh, that's not to say there aren't more than a few "Funkins" -- artificial, carvable foam pumpkins -- to be found here and there. But there has been a noticeable shortage of real, live Halloween pumpkins this fall -- and yes, there is a reason for it.

The Janu Pumpkin Patch in rural Frazee -- which supplies pumpkins to stores ranging from Hornbacher's in Fargo to Central Market and Floral Impressions in Detroit Lakes as well as Service Foods in Perham -- was hailed out on Aug. 27.

"We lost just about all of them," said Cecelia Janu, who runs the seasonal business with her husband, Leo. "Our big field (of pumpkins) was nearly a total loss."

The Janus were able to salvage a couple of smaller patches that were sheltered by trees. But those were barely enough to supply the hordes of young children visiting them from area preschools, daycares and elementary schools.

"We had about 800 kids out here this fall," said Janu. "But we had to turn away approximately eight or nine groups because we just didn't have enough."

As for their commercial pumpkin business, well, there wasn't any this season.

"The hail had damaged too many," Janu explained. "We lost thousands of them... we had hardly any mini-pumpkins left at all."

The problem, Janu added, was that the pumpkins were in a particularly vulnerable stage of development at the time the hail hit.

"The pumpkins were in the stage where they weren't completely ripe yet, so the shells were on the softer side -- so it (the hail) really pounded them to pieces."

The Janus also lost most of their pepper and cucumber crops in the storm.

"Our (storm) was just a real narrow strip that went all the way to Park Rapids -- but if you were in that strip you just got blasted," Janu said. "Frazee and Perham got very little, Detroit Lakes didn't get any -- but Park Rapids and Menahga got softball and baseball-sized hail."

The hail that hit the Janu farm was of the golf ball-sized variety. Not as large as the hail that hit Park Rapids and Menahga that same day, but big enough to leave a path of devastation in its wake.

Though the Maple Hills Orchard in rural Detroit Lakes was not hit by hail, the business is still relatively new, and they do not have nearly as large a pumpkin crop as the Janus.

"This is only our second year doing pumpkins," explained Joanna Goreham, who owns the orchard business along with husband Gary. "Our big weekend was the 13th (of October). We sold 200-300 pumpkins.

"We sold out completely two weekends ago," she continued. "We had a couple of Charlie Browns (a pumpkin variety) left on the 20th, but they were gone (by the 21st)."

And while a couple of early September frosts prevented a few of their pumpkins from ripening, overall, "We had a good crop this year -- we just had a lot more customers."

"People came in earlier this year," Goreham added.

Nevertheless, the Gorehams sold out of pumpkins only about a week earlier than last year.

"Last year, we sold out the weekend before Halloween," she said. "This year, it was two weekends ago."

The Gorehams also sell apples at their orchard, but those were gone by Oct. 1.

"This past weekend was the last one we were planning to be open," she explained. "We'll be open on the evening of Halloween, for trick-or-treaters, but other than that, we don't have any produce left to sell."

Donna Kohler, owner of Floral Impressions, said she actually had to go all the way to Wadena to get pumpkins for her customers this year.

"We usually get them from a local grower (i.e., Janus) if we can, but with the damage from hail they were completely out, so I ended up going to Wadena to pick some up," Kohler said. "There's a family with a vegetable garden that raises them for sale. They did not have any problems with hail there."

But while she was able to pick up enough to keep her customers happy, Kohler said, "there aren't as many pumpkins around town in front of people's homes this year -- at least, I've noticed it."

"We disappointed a lot of people this year," said Cecelia Janu. "Even this past Saturday and Sunday we had a couple of calls from people, asking if we had any left.

"But they just said, 'We'll see you next year.'"

Hail limits pumpkin harvest

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454