Drought didn't stymie local pumpkin growers

·3 min read

Sep. 25—JANESVILLE — Visitors to Autumn Acres Farm had no shortage of pumpkins, squash and gourds to choose from Saturday.

Three months ago owner Cheryl Bleess was getting nervous about the fate of her crop. Her farm southwest of Janesville did not receive any rain in the three weeks after she planted thousands of seeds.

She was preparing to begin the backbreaking chore of single-handily hand watering all of the seedlings that had survived the drought.

Then nearly 3 inches of rain fell June 25-26. Bleess was so relieved she went outside and danced in it.

"We were very fortunate. We got rain right when we needed it," Bleess said.

South of Amboy, April and Elijah Blakesly didn't experience the same early worry. When they planted approximately 4,000 seeds for their first ever pumpkin patch they got lucky with a rain soon thereafter.

It's the Blakeslys' first time growing and selling pumpkins together. They were pleasantly surprised by their first yield.

"It definitely topped our expectations," April said.

The couple took over Elijah's family farm, which they've named Oak Grove Farm. They decided of their fields adjacent to busy Highway 169 would be the perfect location for a pumpkin patch.

Visitors can at any time of any day choose from an array of already picked pumpkins, as well as some squash and gourds. Or they can go out into the field and pick their own pumpkins. Carts and vine cutters are available.

Elijah decided to stick with one variety of pumpkin for their first season.

While all the same variety, sizes vary. All pumpkins of all sizes cost $4 to a payment box on-site.

Next year April says she will try growing more gourds to sell.

Autumn Acres Farms has over 140 varieties of pumpkins, gourds, squash and corn for sale.

Some of Bleess' seeds did not germinate during the drought. But guests are still finding more produce than last year. That's because Bleess has been doubling the size of her crop every year for the last few years.

Bleess and her husband bought a portion of her grandparents farm in 2009. After a few years she decided to specialize in fall produce.

Her many varieties usually sell out by mid-October. This year she's hoping to have enough to stay open a little longer.

Six days a week visitors can come select pre-picked produce or venture out into a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.

Added activities on Saturdays kicked off this week with live music and a food truck. Next Saturday Bleess will begin selling her gourds painted like ghosts, which usually sell out within a few days.

There are a few new family-friendly activates this year, including a corn pit and hay rides.

Liam Jensen, 9, and Seth Jensen, 6, of St. Peter, were among the hundreds of youngsters at Autumn Acres on Saturday. They convinced their grandparents to bring them after their cousins raved about getting to go last weekend.

"I like big fat ones," Liam announced as they finished a game of pumpkin tic tac toe and headed off in search of the perfect pumpkins.

The farm has been busier than ever during the pandemic, Bleess, said, likely because cooped-up families have had fewer entertainment options and seek outdoor activities.

She especially noticed an increase on weekdays last year. The weekday visits have returned closer to normal levels this year as school activities have resumed. But weekends continue to bustle, Bleess said.

If you go

Autumn Acres Far is located at 35482 W. County Line Road, rural Janesville. Hours beginning Oct. 1 are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It's open an hour later each day through the end of the month. More info at www.autumnacresfarmminnesota.com and www.facebook.com/autumnacresfarmminnesota.

Oak Grove Farm is open any time at 10854 U.S. Highway 169, 1 mile south of Amboy. More info at www.facebook.com/OakGroveFarmAmboy.

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