Rainy season makes for mushy pumpkins as farmers try to manage ‘volatile’ crop

Pumpkin is ‘the great deceiver’ as seemingly ‘perfect crops’ turn quickly and dramatically

Increased rain has made pumpkin-growing conditions challenging for Irish and UK farmers this year for while the fruit has grown bigger excessive water often causes pumpkins to mush.

In the UK, Tesco pumpkin-buyer Lucy Moss has indicated that larger than normal pumpkins are in stock this year as a result of very good growing conditions across the summer months.

In Ireland, Julian Hughes, of Hughes Farming Ltd, a family-run business in Kells, Co Kilkenny, says they have noticed that their pumpkins are larger than usual this year. “It is true in our case (that the pumpkins are bigger) but I am not sure it is true right across the board. Kilkenny has a good growing climate because we are inland – the wet weather and the fact that Kilkenny and Carlow probably gets the highest sunshine levels. So we managed to get the sun with the water. In our case we have had bigger than normal fruit as a result of the summer rainfall. But if you are more coastal you got all the rainfall without the sunshine.”

Mr Hughes said the crop as a whole in Ireland this year has not been a stellar one. “Excessive rain is not good for a fruit that lies on the ground. What we have also seen is that the pumpkin crop is probably ripe a little earlier than normal so you have a situation where you have fully ripe fruit sitting in damp wet conditions waiting for Halloween. Your harvesting season starts in September so some (of the pumpkins) are being asked to sit around for a month until Halloween.”


He said pumpkins were an “expensive” and “highly volatile crop” to grow.

“Pumpkin is the great deceiver. It looks perfect. It looks great. Everything is super. You are delighted with yourself. You are out doing crop counts. And then you see a little bit of break down. And then when it starts coming it is like a tidal wave coming towards you. You know it is going to progressively increase.

“They are a very challenging crop, and the other issue with pumpkins in terms of costs is that when they are bad you have to quality control every single fruit. So you get a double hit. So not only are you down in yield and revenue but you have to increase your labour allocation to the fruit because you have to commodity check every fruit.”

Mr Hughes said when a pumpkin-growing year goes badly the loss “can be off the Richter scale”.

“There is nothing worse than a pumpkin crop that goes wrong. There is no other crop that can be as depressing when it goes off the tracks.”

The Hughes family are in their eighth year at their Pumpkin Picking Patch, and Julian says they are “very happy” with how this year has gone. “It’s fabulous. We will have close to 15,000 (people) through the site in seven days. It is pretty intense. We have huge engagement from the schools and the local community. But for my own kids there is only a certain number of times I can pay for them to go on the Tea Cups (ride) before I lose money!”

Meanwhile, last year 21-year-old student Harry Sweetnam raised funds for charity courtesy of the large Atlantic Giant pumpkins he grew at the Harbour Hill Farm in Knockduff in Kinsale, Co Cork.

The largest pumpkin he grew was around 220kg. He was inspired to try to grow giant pumpkins after watching videos online of a man in the Netherlands successfully growing them. However, Harry says this year’s crop was a non-starter when it came to producing giant pumpkins.

“It was a great year for regular pumpkins as they have a shorter growing season. However, the giant pumpkins didn’t fare as well as they are a more delicate plant. All the wet weather gave the plant a powdery mildew, which cut their season short. I was only able to get one 50kg pumpkin whereas last year I had a pumpkin that was 220kg.”

Harry grows pumpkins as a hobby. He did well with the smaller ones this year. He also managed to grow 400 average-size pumpkins which he gave to Leahy’s Open Farm in Cork where they carry out pumpkin-carving classes for children.

“Unfortunately without the gains I was unable to create the same publicity...so I didn’t raise (funds) for the Field of Dreams Cork (charity). However, next year I have big plans and hope to beat my record.”