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Orange crush: Pumpkin patch season is here

What would Halloween be without pumpkins? Fall would be a lot less orange.

Sellers’ annual pumpkin push starts now as the hunt for haunting decorations begins in earnest. Although the ongoing drought has challenged local farmers, a colorful crop of pumpkins awaits visitors to patches scattered through the Greater Sacramento area.

“Everything you see, we’ve grown here,” said Jeanne Deaver, surrounded by thousands of autumn squash at her Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth. “We planted 36 varieties of pumpkins, plus 28 kinds of gourds. We try to grow the different and unusual ones. You can’t go to (your local supermarket) and find something like this.”

Best known for its acres of day lilies, the flower farm in the heart of Amador’s wine country opens its pumpkin patch this weekend with its 18th annual Fall Festival. But in a competitive farm-to-doorstep market, a large selection of fresh pumpkins and gourds is not enough to attract would-be buyers. Besides the pretty produce, this patch features a kid-friendly green corn maze, a hay bale maze, a sandpit, farm animals and dozens of scarecrows made by local 4-H students. Deaver also grows pomegranates, sunflowers and watermelons as added attractions to all that Halloween fare.

Preparations started last spring with the first pumpkins planted in early June. Nurseryman Jose Lopez hand-planted about 10,000 seedlings. Each transplant is on drip irrigation with water provided by the farm’s wells.

“This has been a hard pumpkin year,” Deaver said. “Some of the big ones didn’t get as big as they usually grow. With the drought, it’s been a difficult year.”

For the festival, the farm hosts several gardening experts – from bonsai to roses – as well as vendors of garden products, handmade crafts and gourmet treats. Visitors are invited to bring their own picnics and relax under the farm’s massive oaks or in other shady spots.

“We don’t charge admission — just for the pumpkins and some carving supplies,” Deaver said. “This area is still depressed (economically) and this is something fun we can do for the community.”

According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween continues to gain in popularity as a consumer holiday, with total spending expected to reach $7.4 billion. In its annual survey, the federation found more than two-thirds of Americans plan to buy or make costumes this year.

With Halloween falling on a Friday this year, an estimated 162 million people are expected to celebrate in some way, be it handing out candy or attending a party. Almost half of the nation will decorate their homes for Halloween — often starting with pumpkins.

Like patches, pumpkins come in all shapes, sizes — and colors. Pink, white, gray, green and blue pumpkins are part of the Amador farm’s unusual array. Some pumpkin varieties even change their hue after they’re picked.

“Speckled Hound starts green and orange, but gradually changes to soft pink,” said Leslie Sellman-Sant, the farm’s marketing director.

In the Sacramento area, the biggest pumpkins will be part of Elk Grove’s 20th annual Giant Pumpkin Festival this weekend at Elk Grove Regional Park. Entrants in the giant pumpkin weigh-in often top 1,000 pounds.

Speaking of big, another local Halloween staple – the world’s largest corn maze – expanded again for 2014. Cool Patch Pumpkins in Dixon increased its famous maze to 61 acres, another record-breaker.

“We are crazy,” said Cool Patch co-owner Matt Cooley. “We just wanted to see if we could do the biggest, baddest maze that had ever been built, and we think we’ve done that.”

FALL FESTIVAL AT THE FLOWER FARM

Where: Amador Flower Farm, 22001 Shenandoah School Road, Plymouth

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday

Admission: Free

Details: (209) 245-6660, www.amadorflowerfarm.com

20TH ANNUAL ELK GROVE GIANT PUMPKIN FESTIVAL

Where: Elk Grove Regional Park, 9950 Elk Grove-Florin Road, Elk Grove

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Sunday

Admission: Free; parking, $5

Details: http://yourcsd.com/pumpkinfestival/

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