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Archive for Monday, October 21, 1996

PUMPKIN PATCH GROWS INTO FAMILY BUSINESS

October 21, 1996

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The Schaake family's pumpkin patch is a Halloween standard for first-time and regular pumpkin purchasers.

What started out 20 years ago as a 4-H horticulture project has grown into an annual source of income for the Larry Schaake family.

"It just kept growing and each year it got bigger until we got to 16 acres," Janet Schaake said. "The pumpkins have helped put them (our four children) through college, and now it's supporting their families."

With 14 varieties of pumpkins, the Schaakes have their hands full for Halloween. The family has been a little too busy this fall to count how many pumpkins have been produced from patch on the 80-acre farm north of town at 1791 N. 1500 Rd.

The open space and family-oriented activities offered at the farm draw people from far and near every year to pick pumpkins.

"It's surprising the number of adults who have never seen a pumpkin patch before," Janet Schaake said.

Topeka resident Caryl Burris, who visited the farm recently, was one of those adults.

Burris visited the Schaakes' pumpkin patch last Wednesday with her 4-year-old son Ryan and her mother, Diane Parsel, also of Topeka.

``I've never seen so many pumpkins," Burris said. "When you live in town, you don't get to see things like this."

The patch gives customers quite a view of orange orbs stretching over 16 acres of land. And because of all that space, daughter Sheila Schaake said gearing up for the fall harvest and sale is a summerlong endeavor.

"We start planting in June and end up in July," Sheila said. The patch opens for business the last weekend in September and stays open through Halloween.

Larry Schaake said the family has tried to keep a count of the pounds of pumpkins sold per year. But coming up with an estimate never seems to work out.

"We tried a couple of times, but every year it seems like when it gets busy the wrong numbers get put into the cash register," Larry said.

On weekdays, students from area schools keep the Schaakes busy.

"We have about 600 to 800 kids a day," Janet said. "We have a lot of schools from Lawrence, Lenexa, Eudora and Baldwin that come out."

In addition to hay rides out to the patch to pick pumpkins, children can romp in a pit of straw or get lost in a hay maze, constructed from 150 round hay bales.

"We try to stress family entertainment," Janet said. "We like it to be fun for the whole family."

In addition to pumpkins, the family sells Indian corn, a variety of squash and gourds and handmade crafts.

But pumpkins seem to carry the weight of the business.

And speaking of weight, the record pumpkin ever pulled from the patch weighed 266 pounds. This year's record, so far, is 218 pounds.

How do the pumpkins get to be so big?

"We do put a starter fertilizer on them, but the soil is really rich," Janet said.

Janet said each family member also spends their share of time cultivating the plants by hand.

"Everybody in the family has a hoe," Janet laughed. "We've had a lot of family bonding in the pumpkin patch."

Once the season's over, cleaning up the leftovers is easy, Janet said.

"On Nov. 1, we put an electric fence around the patch and let the cattle eat them," Janet said.

"They've kind of got to get an acquired taste for them," Larry added. "The calves don't really know what they are at first, but the cows love them."

The Schaake's pumpkin patch is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. From Lawrence, drive east on 15th Street, which becomes North 1500 Road.

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