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The rise of the Great British Pumpkin Patch

I've always been a fan of Halloween, since as far back as I can remember.

The Halloween theme compliments the autumnal season perfectly: darker evenings; falling leaves and of course, pumpkins.

Carving pumpkins with my mum, though a distant memory, is one recall fondly. I say that giving the impression I don't still do it, which I totally do. I've always been envious of the American celebrations around Halloween and was fortunate enough to visit Massachusetts during fall some years ago.

Ever since then, I've embraced all things pumpkin: pumpkin spiced lattes, soup and pie. Recently, I've noticed (admittedly anecdotally) a surge in support for the pumpkin by fellow Brits on social media. Just type in pumpkin patch UK on Instagram and you'll be greeted with amazing shots of people up and the down the country exploring the ever-growing number of pumpkin patches popping up.

I reached out to some of the pumpkin patch owners that I found most commonly tagged, to ask them about their experiences and to establish whether this was indeed a new phenomenon.

Of the three I managed to speak to, each opened their doors to pumpkin sales at various stages over time.

The Crockford Bridge Farm in Surrey started over 30 years ago, as it has always been part of their crop rotation.

Maxeys Farm in Nottinghamshire shop began in 2012 with the aim of engaging children in how vegetables grow. Mrs. Maxey tells me that kids "just aren't interested in broccoli, but pumpkins are something they can relate to very easily."

The Pumpkin Patch in Canterbury, which forms part of Felderland Farm, only started the 'pick your own' venture this year. As specialists in pear and apple growing for supermarkets at its heart, pumpkins offer the farm an opportunity to "reach our consumers first-hand". A timely opportunity presented itself when Bardsley-England took on a farm with bare fields, which weren't being used for fruit growing. The team identified the growing popularity with pumpkin patches and given the farm's proximity to the city of Canterbury, got going.

All three patches have noticed an increase in pumpkin sales in recent years. All sizes are popular, but kids love the miniature ones; particularly the conveniently named white 'casparita' variety which can be found at some locations.

The conveniently named white 'casparita' variety of pumpkin is particularly popular with kids

When driving through rural Massachusetts, it was hard not to spot pumpkin patch signs dotted along the roadside. Back in the UK, I've tended to get mine from the nearest supermarket. Clearly though, the thought of picking my own is much more exciting and I can't begin to imagine how excited I'd have been as a youngster.

Much like picking out a Christmas tree, Matthew from The Pumpkin Patch in Canterbury says "It's a perfect excuse to get the family outside to enjoy a day in the wild before the temperatures plummet before winter".

He adds, "our lovely patch makes a way better setting for the family or couple than a supermarket!". Quite. I can't see a selfie at my local Morrisons having the same appeal.

With the sea of orange Instagram photos highlighting people's finds, it seemed appropriate to ask if they found social media as a useful tool for business.

All agree that photographs are a central part of a customer's visit. Katherine at Maxeys tells me that in her experience though, it's not a new phenomenon: "people have always had their photos taken, that's part of the tradition, many plot their children's development through these photos as memories".

Crockford Bridge Farm say that while the bulk of visitors go home with a pumpkin, some do just come along for the photo opportunity.

Many visitors plot their children's development through photos at pumpkin patches

Pumpkin sales are profitable, but all admit that like any crop, it doesn't come without hard work and some setbacks.

Maxeys are reliant on 'mother nature being kind', while Matthew in Canterbury admits "there are lots of costs to cover, especially with wet October we've had".

Crockford Farm argue that unlike fruit however, "pumpkins are relatively easy to grow" as they don't require as much infrastructure of labour cost over its growing cycle.

Of course, pumpkins are not just for decoration or Instagram. Each patch was keen to point out that they can be so much more. Crockford Bridge Farm ensure their customers can take home a few tried and tested recipes cards to help provide inspiration.

"The best use in my opinion, is using the smaller varieties to stuff with rice, beans and peppers; tastes amazing and looks great on the plat" explains Matthew from Canterbury.

Katherine Maxey goes even further with her pumpkin inspired delicacies: "we use pumpkins in a variety of ways for food including soup, roast savoury rolls, chutney and ice cream". They even have an exclusive pumpkin gin. Note to self: I must get my hands on it.

So, as Halloween approaches, why not use the opportunity to get out into the country for the day to bag yourself a pumpkin at a local pumpkin patch. Like regulars at Maxey's Farm, you too could make it an annual tradition that forms precious family memories for years to come.

With thanks to the Pumpkin Patch Canterbury, Maxeys Farm Shop and Crockford Farm for their input.

Pumpkin Patch Canterbury: Kent's newest Pick Your Own Pumpkin Farm, nestled in the idyllic countryside surrounding the historic City of Canterbury, in the village of Bridge.

Maxyes Farm Shop: Maxeys Farm Shop, based in Kirklington, Nottinghamshire. As well as its exquisite pumpkin patch, the shop has a delightful Deli Counter with a huge selection of cheese, Butchers Counter with locally sourced meat, Fresh Fish, Bread, Home Made Cakes, Giftware and lots more!

Crockford Bridge Farm: A family owned farm near Weybridge in Surrey. They grow 20 different crops that are available for you to pick yourself directly from our fields. Also perfect for Christmas trees.

5 Facts about Pumpkins

  1. Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica
  2. The world's heaviest pumpkin weighed over 2,600 pounds
  3. Each pumpkin has about 500 seeds
  4. There are more than 45 different varieties of pumpkin
  5. The original jack-o'-lanterns were made with turnips and potatoes by Irish settlers in America

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