A crop of Harvest Moon pumpkins normally grown for the Halloween season in Northern Ireland didn’t quite turn out how they were supposed to this year.
Following a long, wet summer Alan Lockhart’s pumpkins suffered from a lack of sunshine and did not develop into their normal striking orange colour. His crop, which he nurtures from seeds, did not pollinate properly at the start of the season also straining their production.
The vegetable farmer from Newry also works as an agronomist and was expecting a healthy crop of pumpkins for his customers. Over July and August Northern Ireland suffered poor weather with heavy downpours of rain and very little sunshine. That all changed in September and October when excellent weather appeared but it was too late for the pumpkin season.
Alan’s farm extends to 28 hectares on which he also grows sweetcorn and cereals.
The land Alan had planted the pumpkins in became waterlogged and even though they are around 90 per cent water, the pumpkins did not like sitting in the soggy field for long.
Nevertheless when Halloween came Alan opened up his field as usual and the general public came and picked the crop.
Alan said: “The season’s weather was not kind to us this time around. We normally plant the seeds in tunnels in March or April and then transfer them to the fields in June. The seeds grew very well in the tunnels and then we planted them under black plastic in the fields.
“The colder weather kept the bees away which meant the plants did not pollinate too well. But the heavy rain and lack of sunshine prevented the pumpkins from developing fully and we had a lot of small green ones.
“We normally sow around 2,000 seeds and expect around a ten per cent seed mortality rate in any year. From the vines we normally expect 1 to 1.75 pumpkins per plant but this year we only achieved 0.37 pumpkins per plant, which is well down.
“We plant and weed the crop by hand so it is very labour intensive indeed. We have lost a lot of money because of the poor weather but there is nothing we can do about that.”
Alan’s sweetcorn crop also failed in the harsh Northern Ireland conditions.
By Chris McCullough