Ten acres of pumpkin plants had a close call with an early frost this week at a local family adventure farm.
Forecasts of single-digit overnight lows had Environment Canada issuing frost advisories for the Fort Saskatchewan area on Monday (Sept. 3) and Tuesday. Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm, said that her 170,000 pumpkin plants emerged alive and well after a night of zero C temperatures.
“Boy, we were lucky,” she said. “We were so clever that we planted our pumpkins up on the hill. So frost flowed like a river and ran down to the bottom end of the field and just kind of took off the top layer of some of those leaves. But by and large, most of the field is A-OK."
Pumpkin plants are an amazing thing, Andersen added – they grow tall, viny canopies of leaves that act like built-in frost blankets in colder weather.
“If you were to walk out in the pumpkin field right now, you would be up to at least your hips in pumpkin leaves,” she said. “So if it's a light frost and we just lose the top leaves, then the pumpkins will continue to grow and mature. Slower, but they will still keep working at it.”
Forecasts of minus five C or lower, enough to kill the leafy plants, mean it’s time to bring the pumpkins indoors to keep them safe all the way until Halloween.
Andersen said that with the drier than usual weather and August’s fog-like wildfire smoke, it’s been a wacky growing season, putting this year’s pumpkin patch harvest a little behind schedule.
“Normally we would start to see the larger pumpkins starting to mature at this point. But we're not.”
Andersen expects to see people coming out soon in search of pie pumpkins for Thanksgiving. The farm’s bounty of smaller pumpkins is doing quite well, she said. Staff are waiting for skins to mature before they start picking.
“We grow just a really nice set of pie pumpkins. They're super sweet and really beautiful to use for cooking and eating.”
Prairie Gardens is a popular destination for school field trips. Visiting kids will take home about 10,000 of the farm’s smaller pumpkins this fall.
“But the big guys we're still waiting on,” Andersen said. “We're hoping that we just get away with another couple of weeks of growing season, which should really make a huge difference for the jack o' lanterns."
The farm, well-known for its intricate corn mazes, also grows and sells over 150 type of vegetables.