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Pumpkins will be arriving at the Cedar Grove Garden Center in mid-September. FILE PHOTO

By ROBIN WOODS and JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
For Montclair Local
Winters@montclairlocal.news

Summer’s on the wane, and it’s time to get ready for fall’s bounty of apples, plants and pumpkins. Fall 2020 will be different due to the pandemic, but it’s not too soon to plan field trips around town and the surroundings to pick up the fruits of the season. 

Take advantage of the warm weather, trade in your surgical gloves for gardening gloves, and put a smile on your face beneath your masks and shields. 

In addition, gardening and pumpkin-picking are ways to add science and math to your child’s distance-learning experience.

LOCAL PICKINGS

You can find local farmer James Matarazzo Jr. at the Caldwell Farmers’ Market each Saturday and Sunday. 

“Bigger pumpkins are ready, but they’re not being picked yet to go out to the public until the last week in September. Apples are ripe and ready from the Hudson Valley and western New Jersey,” he said.

You can find five of the most popular apple varieties now. Here’s how he describes them:

  •  Gravenstein apples are crisp and tart.
  •  Summer McIntosh are all-purpose apples, good for snacking and baking.
  •  Tydeman’s Reds are crisp and tart.
  •  Worth apples are crisp.
  •  Zestar apples are very sweet.

The markets help to keep New Jersey farms in business, buying locally instead of from out of state. Everything is fresh and delicious,” Matarazzo said.

You can’t find apples for picking at the Cedar Grove Garden Center, but you can spend as much time as you want going through the grounds by yourself or with your family to purchase pumpkins, available in mid-September. Pumpkins are sold by the pound and are set up by size. 

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“We love the young families that come here,” said Terri Flynn, who’s worked there for 23 years. “People were trapped at home under the lockdown, and turned to working in their yards. It’s a blessing, and people have an outlet. It’s food for your soul. 

“It’s been a good year for plants, and our only difficulty is keeping things stocked due to high demand, and keeping deer from seeing us as being a smorgasbord. Fall is our favorite season. It is so beautiful.” 

Chrysanthemums in various pot and large-planter sizes will be in full bloom and ready for your garden the second week of September. “We have to work with Mother Nature,” Flynn said. “She’s the boss. It’s been too hot and humid for the mums to survive, but we look forward to having them in many beautiful colors soon.” 

Victory gardens were popular during World Wars I and II, when vegetable, fruit and herb gardens were planted in private gardens and public parks in the United States. The victory garden is seeing a resurgence due to the pandemic. Now is the perfect time to plant cabbage, kale, lettuce and spinach. 

At Cedar Grove Garden Center, you can also choose colorful gourds, ornamental corn — three ears wrapped in wire and ready to hang as front-door décor — and bales of hay to set up your own farmscape. 

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Visitors still have time to enjoy a day trip to the sunflower farm. COURTESY CLAUDIA SERIA

ROAD TRIPS FOR SUNFLOWERS, APPLES 

In Sussex County, explorers and nature lovers can enjoy over a million sunflowers in all shapes, varieties, colors and sizes. For 10 years, Liberty Farm at 101 Route 645 in Sandyston has offered visitors a Tuscany-like place to meander through acres of the flowers set up in a maze. Every year the maze spells a different message, which can only be seen overhead. This year the paths have been cut at 7 feet wide to allow for social distancing. The place is not only a photographer’s dream, but the flowers attract birds, bees, butterflies and pollinators of all sorts. 

Get there early, as this weekend, Sept. 12, is the last for visitors to take in the flowers. Masks are required, dogs must be on a leash, and flowers cannot be picked.

Wightman’s Farms in Morristown is an 85-year-old, 145-acre fruit and vegetable farm that sells all produce on-site at their farm market. But visitors can also pick their peaches, apples and pumpkins, on weekends only. Each picker pays a $7 fee, and picked produce is an additional $2.99 a pound. The farm also has its own apple cider mill and a bakery specializing in fall pies and doughnuts. It is located at 1111 Mt. Kemble Ave. Masks must be worn, and social distancing is required. 

PUMPKIN PATCH POSTPONED

Due to ongoing COVID-19 health and safety concerns, people won’t be able to visit and shop at the Pumpkin Patch on the Lawn from mid-September to mid-October, an annual event sponsored by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 73 South Fullerton Ave.  “It doesn’t look like we will be able to do this this year. We are disappointed,” said the Rev. John Mennell.

You can pick up your own pumpkins at the Caldwell Farmers’ Market and Cedar Grove Garden Center.