Pumpkin patches open for Halloween season

On 25 acres in North Merced, it's already Halloween.

Despite the fact that the spooky holiday is still 24 days away, at Daniel and Teri Rhodes’ farm, orange rules. The Franklin Road pumpkin patch has everything Halloween: pumpkins, a corn maze and hayrides.

“Daniel always wanted to be a farmer,” said Teri Rhodes. He retired in 2004 after 40 years with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and, on the land that had belonged to his father, started doing what he had always wanted to do.

Now the farm grows asparagus in the early spring, all types of vegetables and melons in the summer and, this time of year, almost every variety of pumpkin imaginable.

The couple wanted to host a place where families could come and have a good time because as Teri Rhodes said, “There isn’t anything to do for families in Merced.” The Rhodes’ farm is set up to be family-friendly, with hayrides that rumble past Indian corn and end up inside the corn maze.

“The kids love it because the corn is right up against the wagon,” Teri Rhodes said.

The farm has more than 800 children scheduled to make field trips, Teri Rhodes said. The cost for school field trips is only $2 a child; for that they get to take a hayride, go through the corn maze and bring home a small pumpkin. “We wanted to keep the price low; this is such a poor area,” Teri Rhodes explained.

The corn maze this year is in the form of a spider web, and takes up three acres. “We made it a little less difficult this year — last year it was too hard for the little ones,” Teri said.

There’s no charge to come to the Rhodes’ farm, but the hayride and corn maze each cost a little. Pumpkins range in price from $1 up, and there are many varieties to choose from, including white, black and blue pumpkins.

For people who want to get a little closer to how a pumpkin actually grows, the Merced College agriculture program is hosting its sixth annual pumpkin patch beginning Saturday.

Steve Bell, the plant and soil science instructor at the college, said although the pumpkins are planted in the summer when classes are out, about 20 to 30 students help work the patch on the weekend. “We go out in the field and clip the pumpkins from the vine, but that’s all,” Bell said.

People can go into the fields and pick a pumpkin to take home. The pumpkins are grown on six acres on North G Street, and there are seven varieties, ranging from minis to some fairly big ones. The prices start at only 25 cents, and Bell said the biggest pumpkin on the farm is only $5. “The money we make goes into the farm budget, which we use for our farm lab crops,” Bell said.

To see almost every variety of pumpkin that exists, a trip to Plainsburg will please the most discriminating pumpkin lover. Stephanie Marchini and Fania Wright run the Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch, which has been around for about 15 years.

Wright said that every year, Marchini finds a new type of pumpkin to try to grow, including some that most people only see in magazines. Customers can also find all kinds of edible squashes and Indian corn, along with bales of hay for sale and oats made into small bundles for decorating. “There are picnic areas for people who want to come out and enjoy the day,” Wright said.

Marchini loves pumpkins, Wright said, and she researches which varieties to grow. The two women have some pumpkins that are pushing 400 pounds, grown by Wright’s father near the coast.

At the Rhodes’ farm, the couple planted 10,000 seeds earlier this year in anticipation of Halloween.

“We put on our pumpkin T-shirts, our straw hats and have fun,” Teri Rhodes said.

Come Oct. 31, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus would feel right at home in Merced.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.