- Vegetables: cucurbits
- Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: agritourism
- Production Systems: general crop production
The problem with growing pumpkins organically in northern Wisconsin is that we have a short growing season for a relatively long season crop and the market for pumpkins ends abruptly on October 31. The average frost free dates are June 1 to September 10, although there are many years when the soil is not warm enough to plant pumpkin seed until June 15. With such a short window, it is critical to make the best use of labor to be as productive as possible. In addition, if we can hasten the ripening by several weeks, it could offer a larger window for sales.
Agritourism is a growing segment of the Wisconsin tourism industry, including Bayfield County, which has traditionally been a tourist destination due to the abundance of recreational activities available. Agritourism is not only a way for farmers to diversify and increase revenues, but a means to connect consumers to their food supply and to nature. While the northern half of Bayfield County is replete with orchards and small farms, there is not a single U-pick pumpkin operation in Bayfield County, nor the two adjacent counties (Ashland and Sawyer). This situation creates an opportunity for pumpkin producers. By seizing this opportunity, we will increase and diversify our revenue, making it possible for our organization to further its mission of growing food and providing an educational resource for other farmers and our community.
With our proposal, we aim to address two questions related to growing pumpkins organically:
1. Technical: is it better to use seedlings to transplant or direct seed in terms of early ripening and overall productivity?
2. Economic: how can we provide locally grown, organic pumpkins for our community and generate revenue for our nonprofit organization using an agritourism model?
1. We will plant two acres with pumpkins: one acre using seedlings and one acre using direct seeding. We will plant multiple varieties so as to maximize the likelihood that one or more variety will perform well despite our northern climate and fluctuations in the weather. The two plots will be identical as to the number of plants and seeds for each variety, so that we can measure the effect of the treatment on timing and production. Having the project run for two growing seasons will allow us to potentially evaluate the results with different weather conditions.
We will keep records regarding the time it takes to start and care for the seedlings and transplant and the time necessary to grow the direct seed plot. We will evaluate both plots in terms of total yield and the timing of ripening. If we can hasten the ripening by several weeks through the use of seedlings, that would allow more time for sales and potentially greater revenue.
2. The Cable Area Chamber will promote sale of pumpkins as an agritourism venture, with signage on Highway 63, less than 1 mile away. Fall activities in Cable include Cable Fall Fest, which attracts 10,000 visitors to the area, in addition to tens of thousands of visitors who drive through Cable on their way to points further north. The town of Bayfield attracts 50,000 visitors to Apple Fest in October and there is a steady stream of hunters, leaf peepers, and silent sports enthusiasts throughout the fall.
We have the infrastructure in place to increase our capacity for success, including outbuildings with electricity and hanging shop lights for starting seedlings, interns to provide labor while they learn new skills, and a two-acre pasture that is is partially fenced with easy access to water.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Compare two one-acre plots of pumpkins, one planted with seedlings and one direct seeded, in order to determine which method leads to earliest and largest yields in our northern climate.
- Provide consumers with an alternative to purchasing pumpkins that were grown using synthetic chemicals and transportation that require fossil fuels.
- Adopt an agritourism model to generate revenue and inform the public about sustainable agriculture, providing tours and pamphlets to educate the public about the importance of organic production and potentially increasing demand for organic products.