How a late spring is impacting this year's pumpkin season in Washington

It’s almost time for pumpkin-picking season in western Washington, but when you head out to get your pumpkins this fall, you may notice some differences in price and size due to this year’s late spring, which delayed planting for some farmers. 

Some of the fields at Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish are bursting with large pumpkins.

"You can see a big green one over there," said Bob Ricci, the owner of Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Farm. "This is actually one of my new favorite pumpkins, Fireball. It has stripes."

Ricci says out of the 45 acres, nearly 20 will be ready on time. Due to the wet spring, that’s not the case in every patch.  

"By the time we get to the middle of September, they will be full size," said Ricci. "You can just see the difference in size from the other field."

Just across the road, the plants are about three weeks behind.

"You can see this one is just getting started," Ricci said, pointing to the plants. "The pumpkins here are just forming. We are just starting for these plants to set fruit."

Ricci says soggy ground led to a later planting in that particular field.

"Some of these fields were just really wet, really muddy, but it was the last week in June when we could get a tractor in here," he said.

University of Washington Farm Manager Perry Acworth says some of the pumpkins on the UW farm also would have been much bigger if they were able to get seeds in the ground sooner.  

"This is winter luxury. This one is fine, but these little guys down here are just getting started," said Acworth, as she showed us some of the pumpkins that were growing at a patch in Seattle.  

"I think what’s going to happen is you might see that the crops are going to be harvested later," she said.

The extended cool spring weather also held back the bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

RELATED: Pumpkin fall outlook: How the season’s harvest has withstood weather extremes

"These flowers are waiting for the pollinators to come," said Acworth, pointing out some blooms.  

Acworth says the insects prefer temps of 70 degrees or warmer and move slower in colder temperatures.

"In order to have a single squash, you need about 10 visits, on average, from a pollinator. So, if you have slow spring and they are not very active, you are going to have poor pollination, imperfect pollination, and, just less fruit overall," said Acworth. 

"A lot of bees in here, they are still working," said Ricci, surveying his fields. He also says there is a small window to pollinate.

"The female flowers on are down lower the bigger vines. They open one day, [and] you have one opportunity for a bee to come out there and pollinate it that day," said Ricci.  

Acworth says all the delays this spring mean that the pumpkins don’t have as much time to grow.

"A lot of farmers are in flood zones and need to harvest early and cannot leave the squash later on the vine," said Acworth. "For farmers who are under a deadline, and have got to have those pumpkins ready for Halloween, they might be smaller this year and there might not be as many."

For shoppers, it could also translate into higher prices.

"For consumers, if there are less pumpkins in the pipelines, they might see a price increase," said Acworth.

Acworth says a pumpkin variety native to the Northwest did the best this year at the University of Washington Farm.  Meantime, there are more than 60 different varieties growing at Bob Corn & Pumpkin Farm.  

"The 120-day ones, they are not going to make it. They will be big and green they won’t have enough days in the growing season to turn orange," Ricci said. 

Ricci ordered extra pumpkins from a grower in a different region, so customers who come to the festival in mid-September will have plenty to choose from early in the season.  This will give the slower fields a chance to reach their peak before they are picked.