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How to Start a Commercial Pumpkin Patch, What you need to know

You Want to Start a Commercial Pumpkin Patch?

Resources to help the beginning pumpkin farmer

Pumpkins are a crop that lend themselves well to small-scale and part-time farming operations, particularly for agri-entertainment operations like pumpkin patches and corn mazes. Pumpkins are seen as a profitable opportunity by many farmers. Because of this, pumpkin acreage has expanded greatly in recent years and competition in the pumpkin market is increasing. Around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced on 75,000 acres in the United States annually

Botany: Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squash, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds. Individual plants produce both male and female flowers. Fruit shape, size, and appearance (smooth or ribbed) vary, ranging from small (less than 5 pounds) to medium (12-24 pounds), and large (typically 40-60 pounds). Pumpkins originated in America.

According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, the top ten states in pumpkin acreage are

  1. Illinois,
  2. New York,
  3. California,
  4. Pennsylvania,
  5. Michigan,
  6. Ohio,
  7. New Jersey,
  8. Texas,
  9. New Mexico, and
  10. Wisconsin.

Data on production value is sketchy, but it likely exceeds $150 million annually in the United States.

Six basic marketing alternatives are available to the pumpkin grower:

  1. wholesale markets,
  2. cooperatives,
  3. Contracting to Big Box stores (Wal-Mart, Kmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.)
  4. local retailers (grocery stores),
  5. roadside stands, and
  6. pick-your-own, pumpkin patch or corn maze operations.

Some farm stands and “U-Pick” operations have developed value-added activities such as hay rides, pony rides, corn mazes and pumpkin festivals to boost sales. When pumpkins are
shipped to the wholesale market, they are shipped in bulk bins or stacked loose in trailers.

In wholesale marketing, either you or a shipper can take your crop to the market. Shippers generally sell and transport pumpkins for a predetermined price. Wholesale marketing is subject to the most price fluctuations. Marketing cooperatives generally use a daily pooled cost and price, which spreads price fluctuations over all participating producers. Local retailers are another possible market, but you must take the time to contact produce managers and provide high-quality pumpkins when stores require them.

Roadside stands (either your own or another grower's) and pick-your-own operations provide opportunities to receive higher than wholesale prices for your pumpkins, but you may have some additional expenses for advertising, building and maintaining a facility, maintaining liability insurance and providing service to your customers. With pick-your-own operations, you save on harvest costs, but you must also be willing to accept some waste.

Depending on your location, processors may or may not be a marketing option. Processors are less likely to contract with small-acreage growers.

Common commercial pumpkin varieties:

commercial pumpkin varieties
Growing pumpkins

Pumpkins grow best on soils that hold water well and have good air and water filtration. If you grow pumpkins on sandy soil, irrigation is important to ensure optimum plant growth, uniform fruit set, and robust development. Soil should have a pH of 5.8 to 6.6. Pumpkins require a constant supply of moisture during the growing season. Water deficiency or stress, especially during the blossom-fruit set period, can reduce fruit size or cause blossoms and fruits to drop, resulting in reduced yields.

Pumpkins also are sensitive to cold temperatures and plants can be injured by even a slight frost. The best average temperature range during the growing season is between 65° and 95°F; temperatures above 95°F or below 50°F will slow the growth and maturation of the crop.


PennState says the Initial resource requirements for irrigated pumpkins are:

  • Land: 1 acre

  • Labor: 19 hours per acre

  • Harvesting costs: $300 per acre

  • Capital: $3,000 per acre

  • Depreciation on equipment: $300 per acre

Resources and References

Overall guides to growing pumpkins commercially

How to start a pumpkin patch or other gri-entertainment operation

Pumpkin Production

  • Commercial Production and Management of Pumpkins and Gourds, University of Georgia - This online publication covers all parts of successful pumpkin management and includes marketing tips.
  • Grading Manual for Canned Pumpkin and Canned Squash, Ag Marketing Service, 1957 - This document details how pumpkins are processed.
  • A Halloween Pumpkin Primer, The State Journal-Register, 2009 - Illinois leads the United States in pumpkin production and processing.
  • A Halloween Tradition,, 2001 - This site provides a general overview of pumpkins, production and marketing.
  • Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Production, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), NCAT, 2003 - This document covers production, weed and pest management, harvesting and marketing.
  • Pumpkin Butter and Mashed or Pureed Squashes, University of Georgia, 1997 - This one-page document reviews safety regarding canned pumpkin products.
  • Pumpkin Nook - This Web site calls itself the "Internet shrine and library for pumpkins." It includes information on growing, holiday ideas and educational material.
  • Pumpkin Production Guide, Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, 2003 - This 152-page guide covers the basics to cutting-edge research. It includes sample budgets and marketing ideas. It is available for purchase.
  • Pumpkins, Vegetables and Melons Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2007.
  • Pumpkins & More, University of Illinois - This site is completely devoted to pumpkins. It includes sections on growing, selection and uses, varieties and festival ideas.
  • Pumpkins and Squash, Vegetable Research and Information Center, University of California Cooperative Extension - This resource site has links to summer and winter squash and pumpkin production.
  • Pumpkins, Commercial Vegetable Production, Kansas State University - This document outlines commercial pumpkin production for Kansas. It includes production costs and direct marketing ideas.
  • Vegetables and Melons, ERS, USDA - This government portal provides general information and statistics on the U.S. vegetable and melon industries.

Supplies, Shipping Containers and management services

Crates and bins to ship your pumpkins. We have no affiliation with any of these.

Fertilizer and Pest management

  • Water Management and crop enhancements - M&D Enterprises has a water management program which they say will increase the efficiency of water. Reduce runoff which will reduce erosion, increase effectiveness of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, elimination of dry spots on lawns, pastures, crop fields, and alfalfa. Seed treatment for germination and root growth. A liquid micronutritional fertilizer supplement to help maximize crop yield.

Businesses/Case Studies

  • Arata Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay, California - This farm claims to be the oldest working pumpkin farm in San Mateo County. Pumpkins have been grown since 1932. The Arata farm specializes in hosting school groups. It also distributes pumpkins nationwide.
  • Bengtson's Pumpkin Farm, Lockport, Illinois - Bengtson's, a working pumpkin farm, offers a variety of activities for families, including a haunted and fun barn, pumpkin launcher and racing pigs.
  • County Line Orchard, Ag Marketing Resource Center, 2002 - Located in Hobart, Indiana, County Line Orchard is operated by the McAfees, a fifth-generation farm family. The orchard is a pumpkin and you-pick apple farm that specializes in agritourism. The farm hosts students and teachers for educational tours. About half of the family's total business comes from pumpkin sales and apple and cider sales.
  • Happy Apple Farm, Penrose, Colorado - This farm offers more than just apples. The you-pick pumpkin patch becomes haunted during October. The farm hosts Halloween activities that include each guest receiving a pumpkin, candy and a “death ride to lighted pumpkin field.” Visitors are encouraged to dress in costumes.
  • Kathy's Pumpkin Patch, Donnellson, Iowa - The pumpkin patch is part of a third-generation crop farm located in southeast Iowa. The farm grows about 30 acres of pumpkins, squash and fall ornamentals and sells them at their roadside stand. Kathy's Pumpkin Patch also hosts fall activities and events through Halloween.
  • Milky Way Farm, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania - The family-owned and -operated dairy farm offers birthday parties and private and school group tours. During October, the farm hosts a you-pick pumpkin patch. About 25,000 pumpkins are grown on 10 acres.
  • Nordic Ridge Gardens, Calumet, Minnesota - This former dairy farm promotes educational school field trips during September and October. In addition to thousands of pumpkins, the farm raises squash, gourds and strawberries.
  • Swan Pumpkin Farm, Franksville, Wisconsin - This farm in Racine County features many activities and tours during harvest and Halloween, such as pumpkin bowling, a corn maze and a haunted house.
  • Walters' Pumpkin Patch, Burns, Kansas - This pumpkin patch started out as a farming and ranching business for Carroll and Becky Walters. In 1998, the Walters decided to grow pumpkins as a business, and Walters' Pumpkin Patch began to take shape.


Halloween Costumes

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