4-H pumpkin patch braves early frost

Friday, October 12, 2018
Follow the subtle signs that lead you to the pumpkin patch north of Alta. They start at the intersection of Highway 7 and West highway in Alta. / Photos By Elijah Decious

Maple Valley Ag 4-H group is hoping folks will hurry out to get their pumpkins before they freeze this chilly October.

The Pumpkin Hollow, north of Alta, will be open every Saturday and Sunday in October from 1-4 p.m. to try to sell 1,000 pumpkins in the field. The project, going on for over 20 years at its current location (and at a location in Galva before that), fundraises for the 4-H group’s community service projects. Past projects have helped the Lord’s Cupboard in Alta, school backpack programs, Santa’s Castle in Storm Lake and improvements at the County Fairgrounds.

“The whole idea of fundraising is so that the kids get involved and understand there’s work involved too,” said coordinator Kristen Watts.

Don’t get spooked on your quest for the great pumpkin. Ghosts and monsters like to visit Pumpkin Hollow’s field around this time of year.

The patch hosts about 900 students on field trips each season, too, complete with an added petting zoo to give townie kids an authentic day in the field. They love the hunt for the right mini pumpkin to take home and large pumpkin their class gets to take back to school.

Gourds and pumpkins from mini to large, available for 50¢ to $3, make for affordable fall decorations.

With chilly weather in Alta dipping to lows of 25 degrees over the next week, Watts is recommending parents and kids get out while the getting is still good.

Photo ops abound in the patch, including with fred the spider.

Watts says she calls kids for an emergency meeting to cover the patch if an overnight freeze is coming. There is only so much they can do to keep the frost away, but with months of work invested, they do their best.

Seeds are ordered in March and planted in early June by hand. “We have a tractor with a planter to make rows,” Watts said. Three kids till the ground with hoes, three behind them plant seeds, then three cover the seeds and three finish it off packing the dirt.

“They get a little goofy sometimes,” Watts said, but it’s all good, clean fun in the dirt—which is now unequivocally mud. Then they let mother nature do her thing, with some weeding in July.

“This year weeding didn’t go so well, but to be honest it worked in our favor since it’s been so wet and rainy,” Watts explained. Many weeds were just stomped down, making mats through the field for extra traction which will come in handy for the wet season the area is experiencing.

This year, the pumpkin patch is having a little more spoilage than normal with the wet weather. But even so, Watts says there’s more than enough good pumpkins left to go around.

To pick the best one, first check for holes and soft spots. Then check to make sure the stem is sturdy—but don’t pick the pumpkin up by its stem. “That’s a no-no,” Watts said. Stems often break when pulled from there because of the weight of the pumpkin.

Wet weather this year will make them more prone to frostbite and soft spots, which will show as discoloration. “It looks like a bruise,” Watts said.

“Most kids just have a ball out there,” she said, as kids socialize between wagons chasing families around and pumpkins being loaded into cars.

The Pumpkin Hollow can be found by following then subtle pumpkin signs leading to it, starting at the intersection of Highway 7 and West Highway in Alta, leading north to 436 560th Street. Whatever is left in November is fed to the cattle.