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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Scary Tales of Pumpkins

Air Date: Week of

This Halloween may have far fewer plump delicious pumpkins. According to this humorous report by David Hammond, this year's weather has given birth to a bumper crop of haggard, and even scary, squash.


CURWOOD: Are you ready for Halloween? I mean, really ready, with some giant orange pumpkins that you can carve into something good and scary that'll make those trick-or-treaters gasp before they bang on your door. Well if you live anywhere between Minnesota and Massachusetts, you might not want to wait for the last minute to go pumpkin shopping. The combination of a long, hot, dry summer and some early frosts have given the region the worst pumpkin harvest in years. Living on Earth's David Hammond reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

(A brass band, people milling around)

HAMMOND: There's the smell of barbecue in the air, as band members warm up before a Michigan football game. The leaves have fallen from the trees, and there's a little bit of chill in the air. All of the things which make up a normal autumn in Ann Arbor. All, that is, except for one thing. Looking around my neighborhood, I've noticed that not many people had pumpkins on their porches, and the pumpkins that are out seem small and green.

(Traffic sounds; a shopping cart)

HAMMOND: I ventured to some area stores to investigate. Mandy's in charge of stocking the pumpkin display at a local grocery store. She's not sure why, but she confirms that this year's pumpkin crop is a bad one.

MANDY: Well, I think last year's were nicer, just that they're, you know, more rounder, more colorful, like the oranges were nicer. They just looked healthier overall, as a plant.

HAMMOND: In addition to their poor appearance, Mandy says that this year's pumpkins seem to be rotting faster than usual. That poor quality caught the attention of Lucy and Dina, 2 health care professionals.

HAMMOND: How would you diagnose the problem with this particular pumpkin?

LUCY: Severe acne. (Laughs) Severe.

HAMMOND: A birthmark.

DINA: It's got a birthmark, returning to something, you know, malignant.

HAMMOND: So what's the problem with this year's crop? Has there been a pumpkin plague? A veggie Valhalla?

(A cock crows)

HAMMOND: I ended up at Michigan's pumpkin mecca, The Pumpkin Factory, located on a 60-acre farm in Belleville, Michigan, the store sells everything from apple cider to Halloween costumes. But as its name suggests, its main focus is pumpkins. Its owner, Linda LeBlanc, has been raising pumpkins for 17 years.

LeBLANC: This is the worst I've ever seen it. We've had an awful lot of dry heat, and the blossoms, from the understanding that I have and from what I could see, just burned right up on the vine. Last year we had a beautiful, we had a surplus of rain, it was a good growing year. Just, it was excellent last year, where this year it was just totally the opposite. Pumpkins were not only affected. Most gardens were affected by the weather.

HAMMOND: LeBlanc says that on top of the hot, dry summer, the dramatic changes in temperature this fall have caused excessive rotting.

LeBLANC: We have already experienced one freeze, and when you have a freeze and then you have your 80-degree weather, and then we have now, today, it's been cool and raining yesterday and today, they will rot 10 times faster.

HAMMOND: LeBlanc says that she normally raises 40 acres of pumpkins, but that this year she'll be lucky to get half that. She says it's the same all around the great lakes.

LeBLANC: I had one farmer call me from Chicago wanting 60 tons. I was informed that in Chicago and in Ohio, in the Indiana-Ohio area, there are no pumpkins out there to be gotten.

(Shopping carts)

HAMMOND: But it's not bad news for everybody. Back in Ann Arbor, our 2 health care professionals are decidedly upbeat about the poor crop. Each year they go to great lengths to find the ugliest pumpkin, and this year they have a bevy of choices.

LUCY: Yearly I've gotten a bad looking one, yeah.

DINA: After the nice one for the artistic point and the ugly one for fun, to scare them.

LUCY: Scariest or funniest pumpkin.

HAMMOND: Well you definitely found one of the ugliest ones.

DINA: There you go.

LUCY: Maybe we'll get the award.

HAMMOND: For Living on Earth, I'm David Hammond in Ann Arbor, Michigan.



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