Ichabod Crane, beware.
After a 2011 drought season that strangled pumpkin crops and left consumers with a stunted product, the fall fruit has flourished this year despite ongoing dry conditions nationwide.
"It's a total 100 percent turnaround from last year," Jim Benshoff, co-owner of Benshoff Farms in Summerhill, said. "We lucked out. Mother Nature smiled on us."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Beth Mater (left) and Nicolette Haley, 17, both of Hollidaysburg, shop for pumpkins Monday afternoon at A&M?Greenhouse in Duncansville.
Farmers and sellers in Blair and Cambria counties agreed that this year's crop has yielded larger, healthier and more attractive pumpkins than last year - and in greater numbers to boot.
Off-and-on rainfall has fed local pumpkins without drowning them or encouraging the spread of moisture-dependent diseases, Benshoff said.
Last summer - when farmers like Benshoff recorded 31 straight days without notable precipitation - pumpkins failed to ripen on time, leaving sellers unable to satisfy demand.
Prices rose for many consumers who, depending on where they bought their pumpkins, might have gotten a product from as near as Loretto or as far as New Jersey.
Most local farmers and sellers Monday reported prices on par with last year's: Curtis Bookhammer, co-owner of J.B. Tree Farm in Alexandria, and Annie Meadows, co-owner of A&M Greenhouse in Duncansville, said they've generally held the line.
"I think it's going to be pretty good for the whole season. We're getting a lot of traffic," Meadows said Monday.
But prices can vary widely, both day-to-day and from retailer to retailer, Benshoff said. At the produce auctions popular among consumers in some rural areas, a pumpkin that costs $4.50 one day might go for $2 the next, he said. A supermarket, he noted, might sell the same gourd for as much as $15.
"They're all over the place. It depends on demographics, what the market will bear," Benshoff said.
Pleasant fall weather, especially on weekends, has encouraged buyers to seek out pumpkins long before their Halloween peak, Meadows said.
"Everybody seems to be buying early," she said. "Pumpkins are already getting picked over."
For consumers looking for the perfect pumpkin, Benshoff offered simple advice: If you can carry the whole pumpkin by its stem, it's probably in good health.
While this season's crop has been an improvement, weather can be fickle - it's been a rare, successful season for fall strawberries, Bookhammer said, but the same moisture that's helped pumpkins has harmed potatoes, Benshoff noted.
"People ask me, 'What's a normal year?'" Benshoff said. "I say, 'I don't know what that is. I don't think I've ever seen one."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.