This year's pumpkin year's harvest is shaping up to produce a bumper crop, according to Illinois farmers.
The weather can be thanked: Plenty of rain at the right time early in the season, and the lack of it in August and September, according to Patty Wiltse Marco, a fourth-generation farmer at Wiltse's Farm Produce in Maple Park.
Wiltse's plants pumpkin seeds from April until early June. The rains in June came just when the pumpkins wanted, as the vines were blossoming and setting fruit.
Illinois is the nation's top pumpkin producer.
The state harvested almost a third of the nation's total pumpkin acreage last year, according to federal agriculture statistics. That yielded about 623 million pounds of pumpkins, which are technically a fruit.
Most of the pumpkins grown in Illinois are used for cooking and canning. But others are decorative.
At Wiltse's, they grow nine varieties of pumpkins, including the big traditional ones and the small orange ones people think of as pie pumpkins. But they also grow heirloom varieties such as the tan Long Island Cheese and the orange Cinderella, a flat pumpkin.
"This is what the Pilgrims would have used for pumpkin pie," Marco said.
The weather has also been great for bringing visitors out, she said; the last two years were cold and wet around this time, Marco said. If the fields are too muddy, they keep people out of the "U-pick" fields.
She likes answering people's questions.
"A lot of them are getting out of touch with how things are grown," she said. By the way, if you want your pumpkin to last, pick one without cuts. Wash it in a mild bleach solution, don't cut it, and keep it out of direct sunlight, Marco said.
Terry Goebbert's family has been growing pumpkins and selling them in Hampshire and South Barrington since the 1950s. This year, the family planted 42 acres of pumpkins.
About 80 percent of this year's crop includes decorative varieties while the remaining 20 percent are pumpkins that are best used for canning and pies.
"The harvest has been wonderful," Goebbert said. "It's been one of our better years."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.