With thousands of bright orange orbs staring you in the face, just how do you choose?
That was the question for customers at Dutch Hollow Pumpkin Farm on Saturday afternoon, four days before Halloween.
"I want a scary one and a large one," said Ayleen Estrada, 8, of Empire, who looked over the jack-o'-lantern prospects with a group of cousins.
Lexis Prim, 11, of Escalon knew what she wanted, too: "You have to get the right one so you can carve it just right -- a nice, big, fat, round one with a nice side to carve."
Pumpkins are not among the top farm products of the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but they are big business in the days before Halloween. Dutch Hollow and other patches will be open through the holiday to assure that front porches are properly adorned for trick-or-treaters.
Dutch Hollow is at Claribel and Oakdale roads, across from the new Crossroads shopping center at Riverbank's southern edge. It might seem as though development is closing in, but you can shut it out thanks to the hay rides, petting zoo and other attractions at the patch.
The pumpkins are grown in San Joaquin County by Bryan Van Groningen, whose family is one of the state's major producers. His partner in the Claribel Road patch is John Bos, who most of the year uses the land to grow feed for his dairy farm east of Modesto.
The pumpkin seeds go in the ground in May and June. The size of the final product depends on the variety, not on how long it lies in the field, Bos said.
The partners charge $2 for a pumpkin the size of a softball, $6 for one the size of a soccer ball. $9 for one the size of a basketball. For $30, you can get one the size of a ... well, a really big ball.
The largest pumpkin at the patch is about 175 pounds, a lightweight compared with behemoths elsewhere, such as a 1,524-pounder grown by an Oregon man this year.
Get daring with color
Most of the Dutch Hollow pumpkins are the familiar orange, but white, green and striped varieties are available, too.
"The Orange Mini was the Cadillac for many years, but now those Little Tigers have come into play," Bos said, referring to small pumpkins with orange and white stripes.
Dutch Hollow opened last year. This year, it has had nearly 6,000 children visit on school field trips, a tenfold increase.
Saturday, it was mostly families, one after another loading little wagons with pumpkins they found in bins or on hay bales.
"This one's good -- it doesn't have holes in it," Jacob Klemm, 13, of Modesto said of a midsized specimen. "I'm looking for a pumpkin that stands straight, too."
Jacob came to the patch with his three younger brothers and his mother, Victoria Royse.
"I like them a little bit taller, a nice stem," she said. "Not a lot of dimples or moles or whatever you call them."
Royse said she likes to sprinkle the seeds with seasoned salt and bake them, though she has not cooked with pumpkin flesh.
Bos said some customers ask specifically for the variety that makes the sweetest pumpkin pie. It's a white-skinned type called Lumina, he said.
Lourdes Zuniga of Modesto, who came with several young members of her extended family, said it's good for them to learn about farming while choosing pumpkins.
"I tell them that this time of year, they're at harvest and the tractor is picking them up," she said. "You want your kids to see what you saw when you were little."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.