EAST MANATEE — The pumpkins are ripening slower than usual on the vines at Hunsader Farms in East Manatee.
That’s because Manatee County had a September filled with intense heat and rain, weather that pumpkins don’t relish. The Hunsaders may not produce as many pumpkins as usual this year, but there is no threat that the 19th annual Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival scheduled for Oct. 16-17, 23-24 and 30-31 won’t be orange.
The Hunsaders have five acres of pumpkins in Hendersonville, N.C., that will supplement the local harvest this year with thousands of pumpkins, from tiny ones that cost $2 to the huge ones for $24.
“We were a little afraid our Manatee County pumpkin plants weren’t going to set and produce pumpkins at all due to the heat and rain,” said Hunsader Farms co-owner David Hunsader, who operates the farm 10 miles east of Interstate 75 at 5000 County Road 675 with his wife, Kim, his brother, Mike, and his sister-in-law, Trish.
“But now we see they are setting and getting ripe so we know we will get a small crop,” David Hunsader added.
While usually produc- ing about 1,500 pumpkins per acre, this year the Hunsaders may produce slightly less than 500 pumpkins per acre, the Hunsaders said.
The extreme shift in September weather in Manatee County, from wet to steaming, did help the Hunsaders’ honeydew and cantaloupe melon crop.
The 1,000-acre farm also grows squash, tomatoes and corn.
This will be the first year that the festival will be held over three weekends rather than two.
“We felt last year was kind of crowded so we thought this might space things out a bit,” David Hunsader said.
“We also eliminated Fridays,” added Kim Hunsader. “They were slower, if you can call anything at the festival slow anymore.”
As usual, the festival will have the attractions that draw big crowds, including live country music, a pioneer trade village, hayrides, pony rides, homemade ice cream, a pumpkin cannon, a corn maze, chainsaw sculpting, live country music, 100 craft booths and games.
The Hunsaders also have built several new buildings in preparation for the 2010 festival, including a new wooden pioneer shack where sweet corn will be roasted.
Also new this year is the appearance of the Wallenda circus family from Sarasota, who will perform aerial acrobatic acts during three shows each day on all three weekends, weather permitting, the Hunsaders said.
Farm-ly Feud will feature audience members taking part in a version of the “Family Feud” game from television.
Firefighting training and mountain-boarding are two additional shows that are new this year.
David Hunsader made a swamp buggy for this year’s festival. The tall buggy features seats, big, meaty tires and an engine, all on an iron frame.
“That will be fun,” Hunsader said.
As always, David and Kim’s children will be helping out.
“This is like Christmas for them,” Kim Hunsader said of Rachel, 18, Alex, 17, and Austin, 14. “They all have their own jobs.”
Rachel, a University of South Florida student, is in charge of roasting corn.
Alex, a Lakewood Ranch High senior, delivers ice to the vendors, and Austin, a Lakewood Ranch High freshman, works the corn maze.
Admission to the festival is $7 and parking is $5. Children age 12 and younger attend free.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.