With jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin pie and the ubiquitous pumpkin spice flavor, it’s easy to lose sight of the producer who made them all possible.

Pumpkin patches across McPherson County focus efforts on engaging and teaching visitors of all ages about how the iconic symbol of fall is grown.

Educational aspects

At Sunny Side Pumpkin Patch in Assaria, Grant Nurnberg not only grows pumpkins, but squash, gourds and watermelons.

Pumpkins are grown in a field like corn and soybeans, but sometimes, a consumer may not know where their pumpkin comes from.

Nurnberg said he has educational field trips for preschoolers through second graders and visits for special needs students and retirement homes.

"Either my wife or I give a presentation on growing pumpkins to each group customized for the type of group," he explained.

During his educational tours, Nurnberg talks about types of pumpkins and their differences, pumpkin parts, which include the leaf, tendril ribs, and stem. He also explains the process of growing pumpkins, the blooming season, how bees play a part in pollinating and how they care for their pumpkin patch.

P and M Pumpkin Ranch in Moundridge grows pumpkins and gourds of all sizes and in various colors along with Indian corn.

P and M Pumpkin Ranch also offers educational classes for students.

The ranch has different sections for students like "Sprouts" for preschool through first grade where they learn how pumpkins grow.

For second and third graders, they are taught how to "Protect the Patch."

"Students learn the different farming aspects that come into play regarding taking care of pumpkins, both the things we can control and the things we can't," explained Jamie Kaminkow, owner of P and M Pumpkin Ranch.

Older students are taught at a more difficult level about the "Financial Farmer," where students are split up into teams to learn about the different economic aspects that can affect farming.

"We end each of these sessions by observing some of the different pumpkins and gourds grown here at P and M, followed by going out to the pumpkin patch where they get to pick a pumpkin of their own after learning how we grow them," Kaminkow said.

Growing Process

Raising pumpkins is not as easy as it seems.

Nurnberg plants around 10,000 seeds on an average of eight acres and the seeds can grow around 250,000 pounds of pumpkins.

"I grow 30 different variety of pumpkins, plus 14 variety of squash and 20 varieties of gourds," Nurnberg said.

Sunny Side's pumpkins are planted in early June and are irrigated with drip tape in every row throughout the summer.

Nurnberg explained he uses chemicals to minimize plant diseases and bugs.

"I also spray for bugs. They can destroy the crop if left unchecked," Nurnberg said.

Customers can go out to the field and pick their own pumpkins and can experience Nurnberg's farm first-hand.

Wagons and clippers are provided for customers to pick their pumpkins.

"Because of this, I fight weeds all summer with a passion. Early on I can cultivate, then later when the pumpkins vine, my whole family will go out with hoes to keep the weeds out. Raising pumpkins is a pretty major undertaking," Nurnberg said.

Along with animals, hay rack rides, and other fun activities at P and M Pumpkin Ranch, 6.5 acres of pumpkins and gourds are grown.

"Customers love being able to go out in the patches and pick their own pumpkins from the vines, discovering the different varieties of colors, shapes and sizes. Who knew there were so many different kinds?" Kaminkow laughed.

Fun Activities

Pumpkin patches can be educational and fun as well.

Sunny Side has two corn mazes, farm animals like a calf, two sheep, two goats, a rabbit, chickens and ducks. Customers can hand feed the sheep and goats.

Kids and grownups can enjoy playgrounds, pedal carts, trikes, slides and corn cribs. On weekends, horse-drawn hayrack rides are from noon to 6 p.m. that will take customers right through the heart of the patch.

The location offers a barn that groups can use for any occasion, even weddings in the off season.

"We host birthday parties, churches, youth groups, 4-H, big brothers big sisters, Boy and Girl Scouts and several college sports teams.

We also have concessions and a gift shop in the other barn," Nurnberg said.

A newest addition to P and M is their corn crib.

Along with the corn crib, kids can enjoy old farm tractors to climb on, pig races and hay rack rides at the second main pumpkin patch that is held on the weekends, which is also new this season.

“We are all about fall, family and fun on the farm,” Kaminkow added.

Sunny Side Pumpkin Patch is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily from Sept. 30 through Oct. 31. For more information on Sunny Side Pumpkin Patch, visit their website at http://.sunnysidepatch.com/ or call them at 785-667-4668.

P and M Pumpkin Ranch is open for their fall season from Sept. 22 through Oct. 29 and Nov. 3 through 5. Their hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The ranch is closed on Mondays.

For more information on P and M Pumpkin Ranch, visit their website at http://.pandmpumpkinranch.com/ or call them at 620-345-3103. P and M is also on Facebook. 

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.