By Kathy Mellott, The Tribune-Democrat
JOHNSTOWN — The search for The Great Pumpkin by cartoon icon Charlie Brown may have come to a rapid conclusion had he had access to this year's pumpkin field at the Tim Gresh farm near Colver.
The norm this year at Gresh's farm are pumpkins weighing 50 pounds or more, pumpkins that are being turned into some of the biggest, scariest Jack-o-Lanterns gracing porches and lawns.
With pumpkins 90 percent water, moisture in the 2013 growing season of Cambria and Somerset counties has been abundant enough to meet that high standard, but not too much to foster growth problems, according to growers.
The result is plenty of well-shaped, good-colored, heavy pumpkins, be they for pies or for fun.
“All in all they're pretty good,” said Bob Davis, a farmer from the Colver area who was helping Gresh this week pick and ship his pumpkin harvest.
“There was plenty of water, but it was not too much,” Davis said.
Not only are there plenty of pumpkins at farm and roadside stands, but they are well-shaped and richly colored.
Tom Ford, a commercial horticultural expert with Penn State Cooperative Extension, is hearing reports from regional growers of an abundant supply and prices reflective of the yield.
“Overall, it's a pretty decent crop from our area. They (growers) should have a pretty decent year,” he said.
“When you look at prices, they should be better than last year.”
While the pumpkin crop in the region was respectable, the price for Halloween and pie pumpkins was driven up by a drought elsewhere, especially in Virginia.
“A lot were shipped out,” Ford said.
Water was key in abundant pumpkin growth as was no late-season tropical storms, but also key was the lack of disease and fungus, in particular phytophtora blight, which can wipe out a field of pumpkins in a short time, Ford said.
The blight comes from too much water, especially late in the season.
“We've had growers counting their dollars when a late-season tropical storm moves through and they lose their crop,” Ford said.
“It causes pumpkins to turn into white mush. You can lose a seven-acre field in three days.”
The news on the giant pumpkin front is not so positive, said Larry Checkon, the Northern Cambria resident whose hobby is growing monster specimens.
Checkon's all-time best was in 2011, when one of his pumpkins tipped the scales at 1,676 pounds.
When the weigh-off takes place today at Sam's Club, Altoona, Checkon's pumpkins likely won't come close to that best ever.
This growing season provided plenty of rain, but the rains during the last week of June and the first week of July interfered with the pollination process and delayed growth, he said.
“Two pollinated on time and four were 10 days late,” he said of the six giant pumpkin seeds he planted.
The delay can mean a couple hundreds pounds per pumpkin during final days of growth, he said.
But Checkon said word among other giant pumpkin growers leads him to believe he is not alone.
“Everybody in the East has had a hard time pollinating pumpkins,” he said.