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Pick your pumpkins now. That's the conventional wisdom according to farmers in the Northeast.
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee washed out pumpkin patches throughout the region, leaving farmers and supermarkets scrambling to supplement crops and orders from other parts of the United States.
The damage is so severe, wholesale prices for a bin filled with several dozen pumpkins have doubled to between $150 and $200 in areas such as upstate New York, according to the AP.
Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, "The area from eastern and central Pennsylvania and northern Delaware northward to Vermont and New Hampshire has received between 1 and 2 feet of rain since Aug. 1."
Normal rainfall for the period is about 6 inches.
"Along with the staggering amount of rain has come a high number of days with rain," Sosnowski said.
Every farmer wants ample rain during the growing season but not during harvest time. Ongoing rainfall can cause problems not only for getting equipment in the field, but it can also cause damage to fruits and vegetables from excessive moisture-related problems.
"So not only is the ground soggy in many areas, but if it is raining frequently, even a bit at a time, the vegetation and fruit stay wet," Sosnowski added.
Lengthening nights, foggy mornings and frequent rain add to the potential for mold growth and rotting fruit.
Farmers that were not as affected by Irene are worried about future damp, rainy weather.
Pam Harner of Harner Farm in State College, Pa., was concerned about the pumpkin crop this year.
"We will not know for sure of the extent of damage until we begin the pumpkin harvest over the next couple of weeks," Harner said.
The Harners are expecting some losses of pumpkins related to the rainy, damp conditions and were concerned about the forecast of more rain coming this week.
Ort Farms in Long Valley, N.J., was spared direct damage to its pumpkins because of the farm's location on a hill, but fourth generation manager Nicole Ort said they're not in the clear yet.
"The next couple of weeks are crucial because if we see a bad storm, the ground will become saturated, which means a high chance of mold," she said.
The wet weather preceding Irene caused outbreaks of phytophthora, a water mold, which has been another culprit in the pumpkin shortage, according to the AP.
"We have a beautiful crop so far," Ort said. "The threat now is more rain."
More wet weather is coming to the Northeast beginning Tuesday and lasting into Friday, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologists.
Additionally, with the sudden cool weather, farmers face another threat to any surviving pumpkins -- an early frost.
AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Edwards said frost can develop when the air temperature is in the mid-30s.
Since cold air sinks, the surface temperature of crops will actually be cooler.
"While additional cool outbreaks are forecast in the Northeast over the next couple of weeks, at least none appear to be as chilly as the blast from late last week," Sosnowski said.
While there is concern for ongoing damp weather further taking its toll on pumpkins, at least the apple crop is looking fine.
"The damp, rainy weather makes the apples big and juicy," Harner said.
Apples, hanging on the trees, are off the damp ground.
Since they are at least several feet up in the air, they do not get the heavy hit from frost, which generally forms at ground level.
If you have pumpkins in the garden, place them on an elevated surface that drains well. You might get a few to survive until carving time.
As for the pumpkin crop, it is far from a total loss in the Northeast and there are many other areas that grow the crop in the U.S. including the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and California.
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