A scary story is making the rounds: reports of an impending pumpkin shortage.
Relax, kids. While it's true that drought in Texas and flooding on the East Coast from Hurricane Irene left those areas with a jack-o'-lantern crisis, that's not the case here. Pumpkins are in abundant supply.
Would-be ghosts and goblins have the recent stretch of above-normal temperatures to thank for that.
"The hot, dry fall has been great for the pumpkins," said Paul Hugunin, coordinator of the Minnesota Grown program for the state Department of Agriculture. "Growers had a difficult and challenging spring, and a heat wave just as the pumpkins were blooming set things back further. But I don't think anyone will have trouble finding pumpkins here."
That assurance comes with one caveat: If you wait until the last minute, you might end up with a limited selection because the demand in other areas has local growers sending pumpkins to places they never have before.
"We usually don't ship outside the Upper Midwest," said Gary Pahl, a fifth-generation pumpkin grower and owner of Pahl's Farm in Apple Valley, who had just sent a loaded semi off to the East Coast. "Most people wait until the last five days [before Halloween] to buy their pumpkins. That might not be such a good idea this year."
Four weeks ago, Pahl was worried about disappointing the youngsters who come to his farm to buy directly from him. The bulk of his pumpkins looked as if they weren't going to ripen in time for carving.
The late and wet spring delayed planting, he said. Then, as the plants were blooming and needed the bees to pollinate them, Mother Nature threw another curveball.
"We had a hot and humid stretch in July just as the blooms arrived," he said. "The bees weren't out there doing their work. The bees are just like us -- when it's hot, they just want to hang out someplace where it's cool."
The crop was so far behind schedule that he had to change his harvesting techniques.
"The first time we harvested, most of the pumpkins were still green," he said. "We had to dig through them looking for the ripe ones. Now, thanks to the hot weather, we're able to go back and get the rest of them."
Local stores report no problems getting pumpkins. For those who prefer to pick their own or deal directly with the growers, the Minnesota Grown program maintains a website, www.minnesotagrown.com, where you can search for growers by location.
The list also includes links to the individual growers' websites so you can get directions, hours or information on which crops are available.
There is one piece of good news about the great pumpkin shortage: It shouldn't affect the pumpkin pie supply come Thanksgiving.
Pie pumpkins, which are smaller, sweeter and less grainy than the decorative pumpkins used for carving, are grown primarily in the Midwest, where our weather has been very pumpkin-friendly, said Roz O'Hearn, a spokeswoman for Libby's.
"As far as our crop status, so far, so good," she said. "I'd call it better than average so far, but I don't want to jinx the harvest."
Things might not be so festive in Canada, however. Many Minnesota growers who typically ship pumpkins north have changed direction this year -- literally -- because demand is driving up prices on the East Coast.
"Last year, I sent 15 semis to Canada," Pahl said. "I'm not sending any this year. I don't know what they're going to do for pumpkins up there."
Perhaps they can carve scary faces into hockey pucks.
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392