At first, Marty Brady and Jake Tripp didn’t think it would be that hard to grow and sell pumpkins. After all, Tripp, 26, has a degree in plant and soil science, and Brady, 31, has an MBA. Little did they know that rain, bugs, weeds and hungry squirrels would conspire against them. Despite the difficulties, the two longtime friends still were in good spirits as they walked through their field last week, harvesting pumpkins.
At first, Marty Brady and Jake Tripp didn’t think it would be that hard to grow and sell pumpkins.
After all, Tripp, 26, has a degree in plant and soil science, and Brady, 31, has an MBA.
Little did they know that rain, bugs, weeds and hungry squirrels would conspire against them.
Despite the difficulties, the two longtime friends still were in good spirits as they walked through their field last week, harvesting pumpkins. They don’t regret their decision and already are thinking about next year’s crop.
“I’m real excited,” Brady said. “We were sweating to death in the beginning, and we are still sweating now. It’s great to see something that we grew, with actually no knowledge (of the process). Not to sell ourselves short, but there are just so many chances for things to go wrong.”
The duo’s pumpkin experience actually started in April, when Brady and his wife moved into a new home on Hoechester Road. The farmhouse had been in Brady’s wife’s family for years. In the back was a vacant 6 1/2-acre field.
Brady, along with his friend, Tripp, immediately tried to think of something to do with the field. One early idea was a golf driving range.
“The only problem with a driving range is that we both hook pretty bad, and there’s houses on each side,” Tripp said.
The friends — who met through their wives several years ago — thought about planting corn, but then settled on pumpkins.
“It seemed like something challenging to do. It isn’t often that your friend gets six acres where you can do anything you want,” Tripp said.
The only problem was that neither Tripp nor Brady knew anything about growing pumpkins.
Brady works as a case manager at the Central Illinois HIV CARE Consortium, and Tripp works for his family’s landscaping business, Tripp Landscaping.
The two read up on the subject and then sent away for pumpkin seeds.
After the seeds arrived, they ran into their first problem — the unusually heavy spring rains.
Things were so wet they couldn’t plant the first round of pumpkin seeds in the field. Instead, they planted about 3,000 seedlings in cups. They were up until 2 a.m. a few nights, and a few weeks later, they had to transfer the seedlings from the cups to the ground.
Later on, they planted another 7,000 seeds by hand.
After the seeds were planted, the pair switched their attention to keeping the bugs from destroying their crop.
“After we got off work each day, in July, August and September, we were spraying and monitoring for pests all the time. Just keeping up on the weed aspect was very difficult. That actually got away from us,” Brady said.
Squirrels and other critters also took their toll on the pumpkins.
“You can actually see little claw marks on some of the pumpkins,” Brady said. “Sometimes, the squirrels actually jump into the pumpkins, eat, and then jump out. … It’s a pain in the butt.”
The friends did have some help from neighbors, including one man who taught them how to drive a tractor and use a tiller.
This year, the pair hopes to harvest about 3,000 pumpkins and sell them for anywhere from $2 to $50 each. Some of the pumpkins are a little smaller than a soccer ball, while others wouldn’t fit in the back seat of a good-sized sedan.
The friends tried to be unique by planting different varieties of pumpkins, including some with extra-long stems.
Brady and Tripp already have sold some pumpkins to wholesalers, and they plan to start selling from the farm Oct. 1. Hours will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekends.
The farm is at 30 Hoechester Road, off the South Sixth Street Frontage Road, south of the Interstate 55 Toronto Road exit.
While neither has plans to quit their day jobs, the experience has given them a new respect for professional farmers.
“I have a huge respect for the men and women who do this as a career,” Brady said. “If we lose this, we lose a minimal investment. If they lose their fields, they lose a lot.”
John Reynolds can be reached at (217) 788-1524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prairie Bounty of Illinois lists growers throughout the state who sell produce on the farm or at roadside stands. The growers are listed by county at www.specialtygrowers.org/bounty.htm.
Below are Sangamon County growers who include pumpkins among the items they sell:
*The Berry Patch, 11471 Lynn Road, Buffalo. Phone, 364-5606. Open through Oct. 31. Call for times.
*Jefferies Orchard, 1016 Jefferies Road, Springfield. Phone, 487-7845. Open through November, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
*Lakeside Pumpkin Patch, 30 Hoechester Road, opening Wednesday. Hours will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekends.
*Sabattini Garden Center, 112 W. Hoechester Road, Springfield. Phone, 529-3620. Open through October.
*Suttil’s Garden, 2201 Groth St. Phone, 744-9379. Hours: Open through November, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.