Pumpkins plentiful in North Texas

North Texas farms and fields will soon be dotted with orange and white gourds as pumpkin season arrives.

A year after record-breaking heat wiped out some crops and forced local patches to search for alternative sources, farmers say a strong pumpkin crop has returned.

"Last year, we had pumpkins withering right on the vine," said Tim Assiter of Assiter Punkin Ranch in Floydada. "Our numbers are back up this year, and the quality of the pumpkins is tremendous."

Roughly half of Assiter's harvest is sent to North Texas and sold at various stores and patches.

Last year, Hall's Pumpkin Farm in Grapevine was forced to bring in pumpkins from New Mexico and Missouri to compensate for the lack of Texas pumpkins. This year, Texas pumpkins have been plentiful, said Mendi Huffman, one of the owners.

Floydada, which bills itself as Pumpkin Capital USA and hosts its annual Punkin Day on Oct. 13, supplies much of North Texas with its pumpkins.

The tiny town 45 minutes northeast of Lubbock, however, has seen the number of pumpkin farmers and the acreage devoted to pumpkins dwindle in the past several years, Assiter said, partially because pumpkins are difficult and expensive to grow.

Pumpkins thrive in dry, warm weather, but not excessive heat. And since three-quarters of pumpkins grown in the United States are used for ornamental purposes, according to the Agriculture Department, even minor hail damage can be devastating.

Pumpkin use has climbed steadily in recent years, driven by the popularity of urban pick-your-own pumpkin patches, fall festivals and ornamental use in homes, the USDA says.

In 2010, use reached an estimated 1.4 billion pounds, an average of 4.6 pounds per person.

In Grapevine, Hall's Pumpkin Farm attracts thousands of visitors every year who search for the perfect pumpkin, meander through the corn maze and take a spin on a hayride.

"It's a little bit of country right in the middle of the city," co-owner Lisa Nelson said. "Pumpkins are the essence of fall. They signify the change in seasons."

Not all pumpkin farmers suffered last year.

Gnismer Farms in Arlington had a bumper crop, thanks in part to its drip irrigation with tubes delivering small amounts of water directly to the roots, minimizing the water lost to other plants and evaporation.

This year, owners Lynn and Cynthia Remsing planted 2 acres of Cinderella, Jack Be Little and Pie pumpkins, among other varieties. Beginning Oct. 13, customers can pluck pumpkins straight from the vine.

"We had a phenomenal pumpkin season last year, and this year looks like a repeat," Cynthia Remsing said. "The pumpkins are looking great."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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