Moore Farmers Markets Enjoy Successful Seasons
As peaches and tomatoes fade from the produce scene, pumpkins are replacing them in splashes of white and orange.
Dry weather early in the season was followed by wet weather that brought an entirely different set of problems for gardeners and farmers in the Sandhills.
The odd farming season has brought mixed results, with the loss of two popular pumpkin growers and the success of farmers markets.
Taylor Williams, a horticulture specialist with the Moore County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, says this has been an especially satisfying farmers' market season.
"It's astonishing how well the new one in Southern Pines has done," Williams says.
The new market that opened off Broad Street in downtown Southern Pines often had as many as 18 vendors on Saturdays. That market closed for the season on the last Saturday in September and had 11 vendors that day, an unusually large showing that late in the season.
"That's quite stunning," Williams said of the turnout.
Four farmers markets were in operation this season. The others were in Pinehurst, Robbins, and the oldest, the market on Morganton Road at the Armory Sports Complex in Southern Pines.
In addition to the one in downtown Southern Pines, the Pinehurst market closed on the last Monday. The Robbins market is scheduled to continue through November. The Morganton Road market in Southern Pines will operate on Thursdays through this month but will initiate a winter season in November.
Although all four markets were called successful this year, there have been problems.
Sharon Chriscoe, a longtime gardener and farmer in the northern part of the county, was disappointed because of problems encountered at the Robbins market. She says there were problems attracting vendors. Reasons ranged from complaints that farmers didn't want to be involved with any program supervised by a government agency (Extension Service) to complaints that they just didn't want to be bothered.
"It's just an odd mix of people," Chriscoe said. "There were all kinds of reasons people didn't want to sell at the market."
Chriscoe said she tried to persuade other farmers to take advantage of publicity and advertising coordinated by the Extension Service. She said there was never a shortage of customers. Everyone was interested in buying fresh, locally-grown produce, she said. Strawberries sold well, as did tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables.
Then there were location problems, including issues involved with traffic at the fire station.
Chriscoe said she finally gave up on the project.
Not as Many Pumpkins
She is one of two major pumpkin growers who are not on the pumpkin scene this fall. Chriscoe gave up on pumpkins this year and has been concentrating on pansies and chrysanthemums, which are selling quite well.
Raymond Doby is also skipping pumpkins this year at his family farm near Cameron.
Doby, a longtime pumpkin grower, is another victim of the U.S. 1 bypass. The new highway takes travelers away from a roadside that used to sport an impressive display of bright orange pumpkins. Many of his sales were to motorists attracted by the color of pumpkins, but now they drive by without seeing pumpkins.
An additional issue this year is the cost of raising the crop. Doby said fertilizer costs are up and the price of oil has also had a devastating impact.
"The cost has gone plumb out of sight," Doby said.
Elsewhere in the county, pumpkins are making a bright, bold appearance on the landscape, although one grower, John Blue, said the crop is short this year because of weather conditions.
The Blue family operates a produce stand and country store on N.C. 22 near Carthage, where both white and traditional orange pumpkins are on display. Now that the fresh produce season has almost ended, the business, known as the Highlander, is open only on weekends.
"We had too much rain at the wrong time," Blue said. "But we still got a pretty good crop of pumpkins."
Pumpkins are planted in late summer, and that's when the heavy rains arrived, causing fungus and other problems. Blue said he sprayed with fungicide, but fungus still damaged some pumpkins. Sitting in wet soil did not help, nor did the high humidity.
Blue estimates that he left 30 to 40 percent of his crop in the field because of rainy conditions.
"We're very fortunate to have the crop we have, but it is on the short side," Blue said.
Blue, who works the historic River Daniel Blue farm in the Eureka community, said he has talked with a grower in Georgia who is experimenting with a pumpkin variety better suited to the hotter climate of the South. He said his research shows that other and newer varieties might work better in the hot, humid weather than the varieties presently in use.
But the white and orange pumpkins make a striking appearance at the Highlander and other produce sites across the county.
'Eerie, Spooky Look'
Williams said white pumpkin varieties have been around for a long time and that people like them.
"They have that eerie, spooky look about them," Williams said. "I guess people like them for decorating."
Lumina is the most popular white pumpkin variety raised in this area. Other varieties are full moon and valencia. Varieties raised in other areas include a large white one called cotton candy and a tiny variety known as baby boo. There are other off-white varieties, such as a variegated large pumpkin known as "one too many," and a smaller gray variety dubbed jarrahdale.
Chriscoe is also familiar with white pumpkins, which she said are something of a fad that comes and goes. She said they're good for decorations and for eating.
Patty Burke, John Blue's sister, and her husband, Walter, operate the Highlander, and they report the white pumpkins are selling quite well, along with the orange ones, named "dependable." The white variety raised on the Blue farm is the lumina.
Burke said the white pumpkins paint very well with the colors showing up better against the white. She said they also taste good. The taste similar to that of the light orange pumpkins. Burke said the light-colored orange pumpkins are usually considered best for cooking, whereas the bright orange ones are preferred for decorating purposes.
Pumpkins began showing up at produce stands in mid-September, but sales have been sluggish because of the warm weather.
"The first weekend we had pumpkins, the temperature was 96 degrees," Burke said. "Nobody's interested in pumpkins in hot weather."
Now that it's October and the weather is cooler, sales will pick up.
Williams said the heavy rain in late summer was welcome but admits that it caused some problems, largely because it arrived too late and at the wrong time for harvest purposes.
"The rain really filled out our soybeans," Williams said. "We've been far more fortunate than some parts of the state."
However, 12 inches fell in two days in some parts of the county and that did cause problems, such as instances of soil washing away. It may also have caused problems in strawberry beds being prepared for the 2009 season.
The greatest benefit was the boost to the water table.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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