In northwest Iowa, Dan Kaercher finds an amazing place -- a corn maze and all things pumpkin.
Dan Kaercher: In Northwest Iowa I found an amazing place with a corn maze and all things pumpkin. Up in the orthwest corner of the state O'Brien County is said to be one of Iowa's most highly tillable areas which equals abundant harvest of corn and soybeans. But near Sanborn, I find a much more colorful and unusual pair of crops. Pumpkins and squash. They are all part of the bounty at Solsma's Punkin Patch.
Amy Solsma: Well, I plant about 60 different varieties of pumpkins, gourds, and squash and the pumpkins can be anywhere from a couple ounces to 50 pounds. My biggest jack-o-'lantern that I ever planted was 81 pounds and then in addition we have lots of kinds of squash, and not just the typical like acorn and butternut and buttercup, but also a lot of exotic and heirloom varieties that are different shapes, colors, sizes, bumpy or warty and just lots of colors too.
Dan Kaercher: The pumpkin patch itself is about a mile down the road from Solsma's Proper and it isn't open to the public but oh boy, the rest of this agritourism business has so much to offer.
Employee: Have you ever been to the pumpkin patch before?
Dan Kaercher: First time visitors will quickly realize that pumpkins and squash are a serious business here at Solma's.
Amy Solsma: They should all be good. We try not to pick anything before it is ready.
Dan Kaercher: Whether folks are looking for a tasty autumn delicacy.
Amy Solsma: Yep, right under the - in the bunk right here and the acorn are in the wheelbarrow and then we have butternut too.
Dan Kaercher: Or seeking that perfect Halloween decoration.
Customer: This one looks good for my kitchen table.
Dan Kaercher: This family run operation has the tradition and the not so traditional and as you would expect they also have a crop driven relatively short window to be open to the public every year.
Amy Solsma: I open September 1 and all of September is very busy and into, I would say, the first half of October you know people want to decorate. They want to get their carving pumpkins and then - usually I run out of pumpkins. That is probably why I am not quite as busy at the end of the year.
Dan Kaercher: Over the last decade or so, the customers who make a pilgrimage to Solsma's every year have seen it grow.
Amy Solsma: We started it in 1999. I was raised on a farm as well and I used to raise pumpkins when I was a kid and I had two children of my own and I thought it would be kind of fun to start a little pumpkin patch. So, we had just a little 40 by 40 quarter of the field and I asked my father in law if I could plant a few pumpkins and he said that would be ok. And the first year we had small golf cart trailer and that was how many pumpkins we had for the year. So, I've grown a little bit since then.
Dan Kaercher: Besides the obvious outdoor selections for sale here Solsma's has an indoor country store. But it wasn't always part of the plan.
Amy Solsma: I started the store in 2003 because people would stop on the lot and they would see the building and they say "Oh, do you have a store in there?" And I say, "No" and I got sick of hearing that. So, I thought let's get some things in there for people to buy and so we have just local people. A gal that makes candles and crochets towels. I have a different honey lady that brings me honey and jam and just different local products that I like to showcase in the store.
Dan Kaercher: As I look around I notice the abundance of pumpkins and squash. Seems like it was a pretty good growing season around here.
Amy Solsma: Yeah, it has been a wonderful year. People ask me "What weather do pumpkins like?" I say "They like hot and dry". We had that this year and therefore we have a really good crop.
Dan Kaercher: There is another fun activity here for all ages. Now Amy, I have never done a corn maze before. What can I expect?
Amy Solsma: Well, lots of twists and turns and dead ends and hopefully you will come out in about an hour.
Dan Kaercher: An hour? Probably not until next spring. Tell me are there any hints of clues you can give me?
Amy Solsma: Well, I don't want to give it away. We don't want to make it too easy for you.
Dan Kaercher: Ok. Well, I am heading down there.
Amy Solsma: Good luck.
Dan Kaercher: I will need it. I think I made it. I think it took me a little longer than average but what is a couple weeks? It was a lot of fun. You know I have really enjoyed my time up here in Northwest Iowa. I can see why Solsma's Pumpkin Patch is a favorite autumn destination for so many folks.
Amy Solsma: I say you can buy an orange pumpkin anywhere but we try to grow everything else and the orange pumpkins too. But we just like to have people visit us.