Thanks to a warm summer and lots of rain we’ve got a bumper crop of pumpkins this year – and we’ve already started harvesting them ahead of Halloween.
Asda will be selling extra-large pumpkins for the first time this year. The two limited edition varieties to look out for are Big Doris, which weigh around 30kg and are are up to 40cm in diameter, and Gladiator, which are around 20kg and get to 35cm diameter. By comparison, common varieties of pumpkins weigh around five kilos, so these new ones really are whoppers!
This year's pumpkins are bigger than ever as the recent bouts of warm weather and plentiful rain make for ideal growing conditions and mean we can harvest them earlier than usual.
All of the seed comes from the States and this arrives in early January. We sow the seed in April with a view to plant it through to around 10th June – so pumpkins are about about 110 days from seeding to maturity. You sow them in batches all the way through until 10th June then you’re tending them after that.
We've been blessed with ideal weather, which has boosted the size and number of pumpkins we’re harvesting. We’d been checking on the pumpkins regularly and were surprised to see that the weather conditions meant we had to bring forward the start of harvest to 1st September. The British weather really can be your best friend or worst enemy sometimes.
Whilst it's earlier than expected, we always ensure we’re picking pumpkins when they're at their best, so it was important to get the operation moving quickly.
Asda will be selling more than two million pumpkins over the next few weeks – our biggest ever haul and nearly double the levels of two years ago. Every pumpkin is hand-picked, washed and polished before being sent to stores. We have two acres of greenhouses to store the pumpkins once we’ve harvested them and a special pumpkin washing machine too.
We feed pumpkins onto a conveyor belt which feeds the fruit into the washer itself. We have two washers – the first washes mainly by high pressure jets of water washing off any soil on the surface of the pumpkin, and the second uses rollers with brushes on to brush and clean any soil off. Once they come of the machine they are graded in to customer sizes, labelled and packed.
They're stacked five feet high in the greenhouses ready to be despatched at the beginning of October. We probably have 100 staff here during the year and add another 50 in September and October for the pumpkin picking and washing.
As Halloween approaches we can send out 80,000 pumpkins in one day, so you can have 30 or 40 wagons leaving this site continuously for five days. We’ve definitely noticed higher demand in the last couple of years as Halloween gets more and more popular. The ten days from 18th October – 28th October are manic.
We do heave a sigh of relief after the crop’s in for Halloween – though like everyone else I’ll be carving pumpkins with my kids again this year, as it’s such good fun for the kids. I'm very traditional in my carving – I don't use a template and like to make spooky faces.
We don't get too much of a rest after the pumpkins are in, because as soon Halloween’s over we turn our attention to Christmas. Alongside pumpkins and courgettes we also grow bedding plants like poinsettias which are really popular at Christmas.
Our pumpkins will be available in store from 5th October and will come in three sizes; Medium, Large and Extra Large.