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Pickin' a peck o' pumpkins on Long Island

Ronald Steven Duarte of Hempstead, 6, finds a

Ronald Steven Duarte of Hempstead, 6, finds a pumpkin almost as big as himself at Harbes Family Farm in Jamesport. (Sept. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by Randee Daddona

Ronald Duarte, 6, of Uniondale, can hardly believe his eyes as he walks to the pumpkin patch at the Harbes Family Farm in Jamesport.

"Look at all those pumpkins!" Ronald tells his mother, Ana, 31. She heads with him into the 10-acre field behind the Harbes farm stand, which is surrounded by cornfields.

It's like an open-air pumpkin supermarket with different colored pumpkins - not just the traditional orange - peeping out under the broad green leaves, and clinging to vines.

"There's a green one!" Ronald yells as he walks through the field. "There's a white one!"

His efforts yield two oblong orange 20-pounders. They are loaded onto one of the wagons provided by Harbes, and dragged to the gate. The cost: 49 cents a pound - $20 for the two.

Ronald says he plans to draw faces on them. But on Halloween, his mother says, "we'll cut sharp teeth and eyes, and put a candle inside."

Hitting the field

U-pick pumpkin patches are open all over Long Island, particularly on the East End. From now until Halloween, you can pretend to be a farmhand for an hour or so, bending and lifting to harvest your own pumpkins - right where they are grown.

Pumpkin pickin' isn't that easy. Ronald raised a sweat bending and lifting for his.

"It's hard work," he says.

Edward Harbes, a grower for the Harbes family, estimates there are 20,000 pumpkins in Harbes' three patches, which include the Mattituck farm's 10 acres and another 30 acres in Riverhead (631-722-2022, harbesfamilyfarm.com).

The pickins' are rich this time of year, and come in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Making a pick

Kerin Nussbaum, 15, of Merrick, found a white pumpkin for her front porch. She's been visiting U-pick pumpkin patches in the run-up to Halloween for the past dozen years. This day, she was accompanied by her brother Tyler, 14, and their friend, Maeghan Murphy, 14, of Holtsville. All told, their haul is 27 pumpkins, including the white one, which they pile into two wagons.

Another pumpkin picker, Christopher Scudero, 8, of Smithtown, likes the shiny, unripe ones. "I like the green one. It's different," he says, filling wagons alongside his brothers Matthew, 11, and Jonathan, 6.

The green ones are actually unripe orange pumpkins, Harbes says, while white pumpkins are a hybrid called Silver Moon.

Pumpkin purists, of course, can't resist the orange varieties, which range from tennis- ball size to bigger than your head. Oz pumpkins average 6 inches wide and weigh 3 to 5 pounds, while the Super Herc tips the scales at 25 to 40 pounds, Harbes says. The big orange Aladdin, he adds, is a more traditional choice for carving into a Jack-o'-lantern.

As it approaches the 5 p.m. closing, more families enter the patch.

Maria Ambrocio, 30, says the activity is a good change for her children. "They get to be outside, not watching TV."

Her daughter Emily, 10, picks a small orange pumpkin, while sister Marielis, 5, sits in the wagon, eating an apple.

Says Emily, "It's really fun to pick pumpkins."

Pumpkin Picking 101

WHEN TO GO U-pick fields are open through Oct. 31, weather permitting, weekends and select weekdays.

HOW IT WORKS Most patches allow pickers to roam freely among vines growing different varieties of pumpkins. Wagons often are provided to haul what's picked back for weighing.

WHAT IT COSTS About 50 to 70 cents a pound. Some farms charge per pumpkin.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE Beyond pumpkins, many farms have other diversions, such as corn mazes, hay rides, inflatables, fresh cider and roasted corn for sale.

WHERE TO GO Find spots across Long Island in our guide, here.

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