It’s been one tough year to raise pumpkins on Kohala Mountain.
The crop has been hit with the triple whammy of a mouse plague, cut worms and a tropical storm that stressed the plants so much they dropped their flowers.
None of this has deterred the Kohala Mountain Farm Pumpkin Patch from opening for its eighth year of Halloween pumpkins, food, rides and other attractions. While visitors to the farm — which commenced a fun-filled month Saturday — may see fewer pumpkins than in previous years, they’ll find expanded offerings in other areas.
“All we could do was laugh and carry on,” farm manager Benjie Kent said.
Visitors can hop on a wagon for a tour of the fields. The ride, pulled by draft horses and offered by Naalapa Stables, is new this year. The petting zoo has been expanded and there is a new miniature pony cart ride and cake walk. Musical offerings have been expanded as well, with the Pau Hana Pickers set to play several days and Beyond Paradise out of Hilo set to play Nov. 18.
Families can have their photos snapped by a sign painted with height markers. If they come back each year, they can take photos showing how their child is growing. And there are plenty of opportunities for snapping the obligatory shots of kids in wheelbarrows with pumpkins.
The farm recently added an observation platform made with lumber donated by HPM Buiding Supply. The platform gives a good view down the coast and into the corn maze so observers can help their friends find their way out — or confuse them further.
Central to this year’s story at the 23-acre educational farm on Kohala Mountain Road, however, is the shortage of fruit suitable to be carved into jack-o-lanterns.
Twenty thousand pounds of crop on the field may sound like a lot. But it’s only about 40 percent of what the farm would like to have, Kent said. A supplier on Oahu who generally is able to supplement the farm seems to be having an even worse time this year.
It usually takes about 11,000 seeds to plant the 6.5-acre patch.
“This year it took over 80,000. We were basically feeding the mice,” Kent said. “Some places we had to plant six times to get a stand.”
The remedy? Soaking the seeds in peppermint shampoo, castor oil and the strongest hot sauce available. Mice ate only half of those.
Then cut worms ravaged the new plants, forcing the farm to start the plants in a greenhouse.
Nevertheless, a crop of green, immature pumpkins is set to ripen over the next month, meaning the Kohala Mountain Pumpkin Patch will continue to have a supply of its signature crop.
“We have pumpkins, just not as many as we would like,” Kent said. “Everyone here today will go home with a pumpkin.”
Prices are up a bit to reflect the supply. Pumpkins are $1.25 a pound compared to $1 last year. It may go up to $1.40 in coming days, depending on inventory. Farm mangers hope the public is willing to pay a little more this year to ensure the tradition can continue.
Adapting as so many Hawaii farmers have to, the Pumpkin Patch has put up educational signs that turn this year’s plight into a lesson. It fits into the farm’s mission to offer education on pollination, composting and other concepts.
Despite any plans of mice, the Kohala Mountain Pumpkin Patch is making preparations to offer three annual events. It’s likely that next year a Mother’s Day event will be held, with you-pick flowers, food and hayrides. A summer festival surrounding sweet corn and watermelons is also in the planning stages.
A new partnership with the William Jewel College in Missouri is helping out with marketing, grant writing, risk management and internships on the ground. The farm couldn’t afford those services on its own, said Kent, who manages the Pumpkin Patch now but said all credit goes to the event’s former coordinator Stacy Hasegawa and the farm’s landlord, Kahua Ranch.
People converge on the pumpkin patch from all over the island this time of year, coming from as far away as Puna and staying a good part of the day.
Ruby Stevenson, 9, of Waimea, hopped off a wagon ride and got ready to go through the corn maze. She’d had a previous run-in with the labyrinth on a school field trip.
“We got a little agitated towards the end,” she said. “Take it from experience, it’s hard. We came to 10 or 11 dead ends.”
Her mother, Michelle Stevenson, said the trip was a reward for her daughter playing a good game of soccer.
“It’s nice to have these kinds of events to get into the spirit of the season,” she said. “My other daughter is going to be jealous. We may have to be back again.”
The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 1. The Pumpkin Patch will also be open Oct. 8 for those who work on weekends, and on the night of Nov. 1 for haunted hayrides and the haunted maze. The farm is also available to school groups during the week by appointment.