BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
PUNGO — Some consumers may associate local produce with the sweet corn and tomatoes of summer, but the growing season keeps going here even after frost has blackened the last tomato. Now’s the time for sweet potatoes, leafy greens, winter squash, and, of course, pumpkins for eating or carving as well as gourds for decorating.
“We’re in our transition now,” said Hunter Walsh of Cullipher Farm Market. “We’re on the slippery slope toward winter, but we have sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.”
Spinach and lettuces are also coming in, and farmers are digging sweet potatoes. The October full moon can bring a little bit of frost, which sweetens collards and kale.
“That’s the way the older locals like them,” Walsh said, referring to the local tradition of not harvesting collards before the first frost.
Winter squash, including acorns, Hubbards and pink bananas are also winter staples, according to Cindy Weatherly of Cindy’s Produce. Weatherly and Walsh, like other local growers, sell ornamental gourds and pumpkins, used for carving jack-o-lanterns at Halloween or for baking pumpkin pies.
Pumpkins can also be cooked into soups or other recipes, and Weatherly particularly enjoys pumpkin chili, made with the warm autumnal spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
Gourds, Weatherly said, can be used for Halloween decorations or painted and used for Christmas decorations, but she recommends drying them by leaving them in the garage for several days or weeks, depending on the size of the gourd.
Apples are also a local fall favorite, and Virginia apples are available at the local farm stands. Cullipher Farm Market has recently added their own apple trees, including the very crisp suncrisp and the gold rush apple.
This year’s weather has been a mixed blessing for the fall produce crop, according to Walsh and his grandfather, Louis Cullipher. The seeds germinated quickly because of unusually warm weather in the early fall, and that’s advanced the season by a few weeks.
Round-headed cabbage, which is usually ready for harvesting in late October and early November, was ready by mid-October this year, Cullipher said.
“This could ultimately shorten the season,” Cullipher said, “but Mother Nature bats last in farming.”
Still, there will be plenty of produce available through the fall and winter, said Walsh and Cullipher, who are transplanting young plants into the high tunnel this month.
Leafy green vegetables will be available even in mid-and-late winter to those customers who participate in the Community Supported Agriculture Program.
“We’ll have 50 shades of green this winter,” said Walsh.
So what’s the local’s favorite fall vegetable?
“If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have said collards,” Cullipher said. “But now I think that kale has moved up to the top, and Swiss chard has also increased in popularity.”
Some farm stands will be open only on weekends after Oct. 31, and hours may vary depending on the availability, so it is suggested that you call before you visit.