Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 15, 2012

Growing the big ones

Tim Preston
The Independent

CANNONSBURG — Lloyd McCarty knows people are picky when it comes to picking pumpkins.

“It’s getting more competitive. How many places did you pass on the way here selling mums and pumpkins? You have to be superior to everyone else. If you’re not, they’re going to go on down the road,” said the owner of McCarty’s Greenhouse & Pumpkin Farm, nestled along the top of a ridge between Cannonsburg and Catlettsburg.

Fortunately for the family farm, McCarty has a passion for pumpkins and his wife, Beth, produces mums which have earned them a reputation across several states. For the latest growing season, he turned his attention to growing more “giant” pumpkins, than ever before in the farm’s history. With credit to his teachers and the effort involved with hand pollination, the harvest was even better than they’d hoped for.

“We had them from that size, about 300 pounds, to 482 pounds was our largest this year. And, of course we had lots of 80 to 200 pounders,” he said, pointing out one of many massive pumpkins awaiting purchase. Explaining he went through the tedious process of cross-pollinating different types of the three varieties of giant pumpkins by hand, McCarty said he was pleased to produce extra large pumpkins with a dark orange skin, although he simply did not expect such an outstanding harvest.

“We had over a 100 percent yield. There is supposed to be one per vine, but we got two and three per vine,” he said with a grin. “Yeah, we learned a lot.”

In the weeks before Halloween, life on the farm tends to get hectic, he said.

“This time of year we do a lot of everything,” McCarty said, explaining they personally set up autumn displays at local schools, restaurants and hospitals in addition to serving each customer who pulls in at their greenhouse. Some customers are looking for pumpkins that make the best pies and ingredients for recipes while others are seeking the perfect accent for interior and exterior decorating.

“And then you have the carvers,” he said with a smile. “These people are very picky. They will take a pumpkin and rub it and turn it and set it up and look at it from every angle before they decide to buy it. And, we’ve seen a new trend this year as they are starting to carve the giants.”

McCarty said he has to admire the artistry of some of the decorations he’s seen which have combined giant pumpkins with decorative varieties, such as the “peanut” variety which he’s seen used to represent the “brains” inside a larger pumpkin “head.”

Even with a few years of experience behind them, McCarty said a farmer’s life is always dependent upon many things, including weather conditions.

“We got nervous this year. We took the first vacation we’ve had together since starting the farm and we get a call saying there had been a tornado,” McCarty said, recalling the violent storms which ripped through eastern Kentucky in the spring. “But, we got lucky. We got home and found we had lost only 30 out of 6,000 plants.”

For some, pumpkins are be the main calling card of McCarty Farm, but for others it is the place to choose from potted mums in roughly two dozen color varieties. Each mum produced at the farm is a result of nurturing by Mrs. McCarty, who personally oversees every step of the growing process.

“Her mums are becoming so well known that people call and reserve them,” he said. “She has a lot of customers who appreciate that she personally takes the time to hand trim every one of them.”

McCarty said their operation depends upon the efforts of six people who are dedicated to growing things their customers ask for. Noting the steep hillside slopes throughout their 30-acre property, McCarty said some visitors, including a group of Mennonites who have been extremely important to his pumpkin-farming education are astounded they can grow so much at such an angle.

“The Mennonites are flatlanders, you know and they joke about me having a tractor with one big wheel and one small wheel,” he said.

In addition to pumpkins, gourds and mums, McCarty’s Greenhouse & Pumpkin Farm at 4510 Cannonsburg Road produces straw, fodder and broom corn for decorative purposes. The family farm is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (606) 585-0043.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.