Lakeview Farms

Farmer Karl: Pumped for Halloween

By Kalen Ponche   St. Charles Edition of Suburban Journal   October 21, 2008

Farmer Karl

Under the shade of a 4-foot sycamore tree, piles of orangey-red, speckled tan and bumpy, lumpy pumpkins were piled on wooden tables ready for the taking at Lakeview Farms.

These pumpkins and squash -- with names like the Turk's Turban, Long Island Cheese and Cinderella -- are the fruit of many hours of labor on the part of farmer Carl Lask.

After 10 years of pumpkin farming, Lask has learned that it takes constant vigilance to protect the crops against bugs and disease, but the effort can be well worth it. Lask offers a variety of activities for children at his pick-your-own farm, 8265 Mexico Road near O'Fallon.

"I think seeing the kids really enjoy themselves," he said. "How many places are there for kids to have to unwind and have fun anymore?"

At Lakeview Farms, Lask said, he's really selling a chance for families to spend time together, selecting that perfect pumpkin, meeting the troll or panning for gold.

Eleven years ago, Lask was content just growing pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries.

The 68-year-old had plenty to keep him busy. In addition to farming, he coached a girls soccer team.

He sometimes planted a small pumpkin patch to use as an incentive for the girls to work hard. The girl who did the best got the first pick out of the patch. Then one year, two girls suggested he start selling pick-your-own pumpkins in addition to strawberries and raspberries.

Lask suggested they take charge of the operation. The two girls did most of the work and the venture was a success.

"When you do something like that, customers expect you to have it the next year," he said.

After years of farming strawberries and raspberries, Lask expected pumpkins would be easy. But he learned there are some things, like the weather, you just can't plan for.

The pumpkin life cycle begins in early summer as Lask drops the seeds into the tilled ground. Lask starts growing the biggest pumpkins in temperature-controlled indoor beds in May. The rest of the pumpkin seeds are put in the ground during the month of June. Then he has to watch carefully when they first pop out of the ground for any evidence of cucumber beetle.

Then there's root rot and viruses to watch for, too.

Individual breeds come with their own problems. Lask said the French varieties -- the Fairy Tale, the Cinderella and the Galleux d'Dysines squash -- can be temperamental.

"Pumpkins are a lot like people," he said. "They have their own personalities. You can attend all the conferences you like and talk to other pumpkin farmers, but there are a lot of things unique about your land."

Lask said he's learned that his land is the ideal place for raising bugs and fungi.

This year's extra rain in September meant many pumpkins ripened early and rotted. Others developed a problem Lask had never encountered.

"Slugs," he said. "Typically slugs are a problem with ripe strawberries when it's wet and rainy. I was finding slugs on (the pumpkins) from the underside."

Lask said he plants between 50 and 60 different types of squashes, gourds and pumpkins each year. Some are large, others miniscule, and they come in shapes that are unimaginable.

These pumpkins make prime front-stoop decorations for the serious fall enthusiasts searching for the unusual.

The more varieties, the more expansive the stuff, the less likely your neighbor has it, the better, Lask said.

Janet Bischoff of O'Fallon was perusing the selection of apple squash looking for the right one for her front porch. She said she'd love to try raising pumpkins herself.

"I think it'd be really cool," she said. "I come here every year to get a bunch of stuff to decorate my porch."