Pumpkins obviously love to grow in the Sacramento Valley. And Sacramentans adore Halloween.
That combination makes for fruitful hunting for the perfect pumpkin for jack-o'-lanterns or other holiday decorations (or eating).
So it's no surprise that dozens of pumpkin patches dot the landscape every October. It's a crop that's fun for the whole family.
Chris Strutz started growing pumpkins on his Sloughhouse ranch to make up for his slow-growing orchard.
"We've put a lot of work into this place," said Strutz, who bought his ranch in February 2009. "We planted 5 acres of mandarins and a bunch of other stuff. We have 2 acres more of citrus and fruit.
"But the trees grew slower than I thought," he added. "That long wet season we had delayed their growth. So we started growing vegetables, in particular, heirloom tomatoes and pumpkins."
Now, pumpkins attract a steady stream of visitors to Strutz Ranch off Jackson Highway.
"We like to grow as many edible varieties of squash as we can," Strutz said. "We grow a lot of the 'fairy tale' type pumpkins the Cinderellas. They're more interesting than your typical jack-o'-lanterns."
Strutz's Cinderellas and other pumpkins come in a globe-spanning range of colors, from the deep-red French Rouge to the warty-green Marina di Chioggia to the spooky Queensland Blue.
His ranch also has an abundance of pretty orange pumpkins in portable sizes.
"Big Doris is looking really nice right now," he said of a favorite Halloween variety. "We've got lots of pumpkins in the 20- to 40-pound range. They're not so big you can't pick them up."
Pumpkins made the most of our recent hot September weather to put on weight and add to their girth.
"The weather has been really good right now to keep the pumpkins maturing," Strutz said. "Last year, they were late. The year before that, they were early. Now is actually pretty normal."
While many crops nationwide were devastated by drought, pumpkins actually have enjoyed the long, hot summer of 2012.
"For our crop, we had severe drought and severe heat," said Homestead Seeds' Mac Condill, who grows more than 400 varieties of heirloom pumpkins, squash and gourds on his Illinois farm. "We've had the best pumpkin crop ever. They love hot and dry conditions."
The Sacramento Valley hasn't been quite as parched, but our pumpkins relished the hot September when temperatures climbed over 90 degrees almost every day.
"They've done OK with the hot weather," said Matt Cooley of Cool Patch Pumpkins in Dixon, among the area's best-known pumpkin destinations. "Our pumpkins are a little late on purpose we want people to come pick them (off the vine). They'll be perfect in mid-October."
Cooley grows 50 kinds of pumpkins and gourds in all shapes and sizes.
"Everything's looking real good so far as long as the weather holds out," Cooley added. "It doesn't have to be 95 degrees, but we sure don't want wind and rain."
Cool Patch is best known for its mammoth corn maze certified in 2007 by Guinness World Records as the planet's largest.
In honor of the maze's 10th anniversary, the Cooleys added 10 more acres to last year's gargantuan layout.
"It's now 53 acres," Cooley said. "It's taking everybody 1 1/2 to 2 hours now to find their way out. It used to be just an hour."