edible garden

FALL INTO FUN

Growing and picking the perfect pumpkin.

WRITTEN BY STEPH RODRIGUEZ

pumpkinpicking FAV
Ruby Bloss, age 2, picks her pumpkin at Dave’s Pumpkin Patch. Photo by Taylor Bloss

When Dave Vierra was in the eighth grade, he started growing pumpkins in his grandfather’s garden. As they ripened, he would load the plump, orange gourds into a wheelbarrow and haul them off to a nearby road, where he sold them to local residents during the fall season.

More than 30 years later, the garden that once grew some of Vierra’s first pumpkins has evolved into a lush, grassy lawn with dozens of picnic tables, where families gather with their children to enjoy the taste of homemade barbecue before picking the perfect pumpkin from Vierra’s now-30-acre farm next to where it all began.

What once was a roadside pumpkin stand is now a full-fledged family business known as Vierra Farms, where Vierra also grows vegetables including cabbage, squash, and corn. But, of course, it’s a top destination for many families looking to carve jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween or to simply adorn their homes in celebration of fall.

Growing great gourds

Vierra has some tricks up his sleeve that he’s used for growing pumpkins for decades. He says the key to growing the perfect pumpkin starts with the right seed. He suggests the magic wand variety for its sturdiness against soil-borne diseases, and that simple fact that it “grows a very pretty pumpkin.” Picture the perfect pumpkin — that’s a magic wand pumpkin.

At a minimum, he says, a pumpkin garden should measure 20 square feet. Pumpkins are vine crops and need the space to stretch. This required space is enough to produce one or two plants that Vierra says will keep growing and growing.

Vierra says one of the biggest mistakes people make with pumpkins is planting them at the same time that they plant peppers and tomatoes. That’s way too early, he says. Pumpkins are a 90- to 120-day crop, so simply count backward to get started at the optimum time.

“You want them for a specific time period, which is Halloween,” Vierra says. “At the earliest, plant June 15.”

The second common mistake he sees is that people tend to overwater pumpkins, which are quite drought tolerant. One or two plants typically will produce up to four pumpkins. At Vierra Farms, for example, the acres on which pumpkins are grown are only watered through irrigation about three to four times during the entire season.

“The pumpkin starts out this dark green color; then it’s going to start to get really hard, and the ridges are going to start developing. You’re watering up until that point,” Vierra says. “But when you see that pumpkin turn orange, you’re done irrigating. No more water. If you keep watering it, you’ll kill the plant. As soon as you see it turn orange, you’re done. You’ve produced your crop at that point.”

Patched in

Dave’s Pumpkin Patch, located in West Sacramento at Vierra Farms, is one of many destinations that families visit for a down-on-the-farm experience with a unique mix of activities and entertainment. Expect classic hayrides; a sandbox filled with corn kernels; a maze made out of hay bales; a humongous, orange bouncy pillow for the kids; and an evening showing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on an outdoor projector screen. It all comes together to make this pumpkin patch one of the best around.

“I enjoy watching the kids, watching the families; it’s a clean, safe place for people to go to enjoy themselves, and that’s what I strive for every single year,” Vierra says. “There are lots of things to do and look at, but it’s still a farm. We tried to keep a true, farm-feeling atmosphere.”

Steph Rodriguez is an award-winning freelance journalist who keeps a close eye on the food and music scene in Sacramento. With more than 10 years’ experience as a writer, she crafts stories that mirror the vast and diverse culture of the region. From entertainment and lifestyle features, to profiles with a farm-to-fork interest, she aims to capture the best of Sacramento.

Resources

Guide to 2018 pumpkin patches

In the spirit of fall, visit one or more of the best pumpkin patches located throughout Greater Sacramento, because there’s nothing like trudging through an open field filled with pumpkins until the brightest, roundest one beckons you to take it home.

Bastiao Farms Goblin Gardens
3845 El Centro Road, Sacramento • 916-925-2947
Bastiaofarmsgoblingardens.com
Open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Mon. – Sun. Through October.

Find train rides, a giant slide, face painting, pony rides, a corn maze, a haunted barn, a Western town, a corn launcher, a toddler pedal-car track, and a covered picnic area. Entrance fee is $8 per person, and children 2 and under are free.

Dave’s Pumpkin Patch
3010 Burrows Ave., West Sacramento • 916-849-9450
Vierrafarms.com
Open 10 a.m. – dusk Sun. – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Fri.– Sat., Sept. 29 – Oct. 31
Open 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 only.

Enjoy a snack shack with sticky barbecue, scenic hayrides, large jumping pillow, outdoor movies at dusk, corn kernel pit, hay bale pyramid, pumpkin launcher, fresh apple doughnuts, baby goats, and more. The pumpkin patch is $7 per person Mon. – Thurs.; $16 per person Fri. – Sat. with unlimited access to Dave’s Cornival.

Fog Willow Farms
11011 Cecatra Drive, Wilton • 916-687-4547
Fogwillowfarms.com
Open noon – 6 p.m. Mon. – Fri., 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sat. – Sun., and noon – 3 p.m. Oct. 31. Through October.

This nine-acre farm boasts old-fashioned hayrides, pony rides, U-pick pumpkins, a petting zoo, a snack shack, an adventure course, and more. Entry is $6 per person, and children 3 years and under are free.

Perry’s Pumpkin Acres
3101 El Centro Road, Sacramento • 916-929-7546
Perrysgarden.com
Open 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily, mid-June through mid-November.

A variety of heirloom pumpkins is ripe for the picking in many shapes and colors, as well as a corn maze, hay bale maze, and hayrides for the entire family. Free entry.

Roemer Pumpkin Patch
6851 Hedge Ave., Sacramento • 916-381-4331
Roemerpumpkinpatch.com
Open 2 – 5 p.m. Tues. – Fri., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat. – Sun. beginning Oct. 6.

Roemer’s offers a variety of pumpkins and gourds, a five-acre corn maze, ongoing hayrides, a four-foot-tall hay bale labyrinth, face painting, and plenty of photo opportunities. Prices on activities may vary; hayrides are free, but donations are accepted.

The Pumpkin Farm
7736 Old Auburn Road, Citrus Heights • 916-726-1137
Pumpkinfarm.net
Open 9 a.m. –  6 p.m. Tues. –  Sun., October 2 – 31.

Face your fears in the haunted barn, conquer the corn maze, pet a cute farm animal, enjoy a hayride or catch the train, bounce in the jump house, and, of course, pick a pumpkin.

Zittel Farms
6781 Oak Ave., Folsom • 916-989-2633
Zittelfarms.com
Open 9 a.m. –  5 p.m. Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. –  6 p.m. Sat. – Sun., Sept. 29 through October.

Browse for the perfect pumpkin on this longtime family farm with hayrides on the weekends. Pumpkin-carving stations and Amish décor are just a few more highlights.

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