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Ripe 'n ready for Halloween

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ronnie Brown examines one of his polar bear pumpkins on his 10-acre farm near Hiattville. Brown and his wife, Beverly, can often be found at the Fort Scott Farmers' Market. He offers a variety of produce for sale and she offers jams, jellies and "whatnot."
(Jason E. Silvers/Tribune)
The onset of fall means Ronnie Brown can often be found one place -- on his 10-acre garden near Hiattville, tending to his huge pumpkins and other various produce.

Brown said he has spent the last 10 or 12 years growing pumpkins and other produce, much of which he sells at the Fort Scott Farmers' Market, local craft shows, festivals and fairs. He has more than 80 varieties of pumpkins, including a special section that includes pumpkins weighing in at more than 100 pounds, squash and other gourds on his farm.

"I've been doing it long enough I oughta know something," Brown said with a laugh.

Hiattville farmer Ronnie Brown poses with a variety of pumpkins in the bed of a truck he plans to take to the Farmers' Market.(Jason E. Silvers/Tribune)
Like many other Kansas farmers, the extended drought and dry summer created a situation where Brown said he wasn't sure how his crop production would go this season. His worries were put to rest when his garden recently sprouted, and before long, was full.

"Two months ago, I didn't think I'd have anything; then it just exploded overnight," he said.

Brown said he started planting seeds in mid-June or July, which he said is the ideal time to raise produce for the fall season. If they are planted too early they will mature too quickly and will not last through Halloween.

"That's when people want their pumpkins," he said. "They buy them a couple (of) weeks before Halloween."

This summer's extreme heat prevented his pumpkins from growing as large as they usually do.

He began growing the fruit several years ago because no one was selling them at the time. His garden expanded as the market for the pumpkins has blossomed.

Varieties of produce Brown said he plants include crystal stars, flat white boers and polar bears, which are white, prize winners, which are his large-sized pumpkins, and rascals, which turn pink. Brown said the color of the pumpkin or gourd, as well as its size and the size of its stem, depends on its genetic makeup.

Brown said he doesn't use any special fertilizer or soil to grow his enormous pumpkins. He simply tends to his garden and waters it on a regular basis.

Brown has been involved with the farmers' market about as long as he has farmed his 10 acres. He sells his products through the whole farmers' market season, and his wife, Beverly, offers jams and jellies for sale. He often has other produce on his farm, including watermelons and green beans.

The most popular pumpkin in Brown's garden is the burnt-orange Cinderella, which he said "sells good."

"I think it's because they look nice and they're flat," he said. "They're different sizes and can be stacked into pyramids."

Brown said many of his pumpkins will be carted off in the coming weeks, either to be sold at the farmers' market, at other locations around Fort Scott, or to customers who visit his farm. The pumpkins can be used as jack-o'-lanterns and for other decorative purposes. Whatever produce he doesn't sell is often used for fertilizer, Brown said.

Brown said there are other pumpkin farms in Bourbon County, but he thinks he may offer the largest selection and variety.

"I think it might be the biggest; I don't know," he said.

The farm also has its challenges, Brown said. He recently had to install an electric fence in his pumpkin patch to keep raccoons away. He's also had some recent trouble with rodents that have been burrowing in his garden and eating the seeds he's planted. Brown said the raccoons have an ideal situation in that they have plenty of space nearby to build homes, can get food from his garden and water from a pond that is close by.

"That's all they need," Brown said. "It's like a hotel for them, with service."

The Browns run R&B Vegetable Farm, located at 1269 Birch Road. They can be reached at (620) 547-2544, 215-3020, or randbproduce@hotmail.com.

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