Orange, white, green, and every color in between, pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of Wisconsin fall. Whether you prefer to carve a jack-o-lantern, eat a pumpkin pie, or decorate your front porch with colorful gourds, there is a Wisconsin pumpkin variety for you. There are over 20 different varieties of pumpkins grown throughout the state, differentiated by shape, size, color, and flesh quality. Personally, my favorite variety of pumpkins are the knucklehead pumpkins, which are covered in warts! These pumpkins are perfectly unique, and are a great decoration for my front porch.
Earlier this season, I visited Wallendal Farms to learn more about growing and harvesting pumpkins in Wisconsin. The Wallendal family began farming in 1956, and has since been committed to cultivating a safe, wholesome food supply for their customers. Today, the third generation of the family is involved in the operation, helping to grow everything from carrots and cabbage to soybeans and squash. Five years ago, they added pumpkins to their mixture of produce. This year, the Wallendals will harvest 200 acres of pumpkins, with the majority designated for wholesale.
Pumpkins begin their lives as a seed, and are planted in rows across the field in the spring. The seeds are spaced far enough apart to allow for four to six pumpkins to grow per plant. To help prevent disease, the Wallendal family rotates their pumpkin fields, meaning that they will not grow pumpkins in the same field back to back years. Ideally, their goal is to have a five year rotation before they return to a field with pumpkin plants again. This is a natural, and sustainable practice to help prevent disease in the plants.
Early pumpkin varieties are ready for harvest between late summer and the first days of fall. To accommodate early customer orders, Wallendal Farms will begin harvesting their pumpkins as early as Labor Day. When it is time for harvest, a pumpkin’s skin should be hard enough that a fingernail cannot poke a hole in the skin. Pumpkins at Wallendal Farms are all harvested by hand. First, employees will walk through the field and cut the pumpkins from the vine. They aim for a two inch stem, one that is not too short, but still allows for easy packing for transport. After they are cut, employees will again walk through the field and load pumpkins on to wagons or into old school busses to be transported back to the packing shed. There, pumpkins will be washed, sorted, and packed into bins for transport.
While in the field, employees must pay special attention to the white-skinned pumpkins, as these varieties are sensitive to the sun, and can easily become sunburned. They will also evaluate scarring on the pumpkins. If a pumpkin has too much visual scarring, it cannot be sold to a retailer. However, I was excited to learn that these pumpkins do not go to waste. These ‘less-desirable’ pumpkins are instead sold to a dehydration plant and are often included in pet foods.
Each year, when October rolls around, I am grateful for our Wisconsin pumpkin growers. The fruits of their labor are intertwined so closely with traditions of carving jack-o-lanterns, decorating for fall, and eating pumpkin pie with my family. No matter your family traditions, or which pumpkin variety you are looking for this season, be sure to choose a Wisconsin pumpkin in support of our local family farms.