Two is truly better than one.
Mike Koering and Robert Nibbe grew and recently harvested conjoined pumpkins and ears of corn, respectively, that have become a hit with shoppers this Halloween season.
“I’m not really sure how it happens,” Koering said of his conjoined pumpkins. “But all I know is I got two different patches of 6 acres that I’m growing in. And I’ve only had it happen four times in the last 20 years. One year — I believe it was ‘16 — I had two of ‘em.”
The 66-year-old Brainerd resident is retired from Brainerd Public Utilities. But come fall, he and his pumpkins are a common sight in the parking lot at Essentia Health Sports Center at Jackson Street and Riverside Drive in Brainerd.
“It just started out to be a hobby and it still is for me,” Koering said of growing pumpkins and buttercup squash year after year. “I guess I’m not quite old enough to sit on the couch, yet. It keeps me going, it keeps me active.”
“For some reason, they seem to grow in one certain area of one of my patches,” Koering said of the conjoined pumpkins he has harvested over the decades. “It just seems like that area — if I’m going to get one — it’s right in that one certain small area, and I don’t have any clue why.”
How Koering’s conjoined pumpkins came to fruition is a mystery, but odds are the “twinsies” will remain a popular sight with shoppers at his pumpkin stand.
“I’ve been showing them off a little bit on the weekend,” Koering said. “A lot of people take a picture with it and get themselves in the picture and stuff like that. … They get kind of excited about seeing it.”
Koering’s conjoined pumpkins from his St. Mathias property, however, will not be sold to the highest bidder, and they will not be destined for the processing plant as pie filler or decorate the doorstep of some home come Halloween. He has grander plans for the homegrown oddity.
“I have a customer that does an underwater pumpkin-carving contest every year. And she came by a couple weeks ago and I told her she could use this pumpkin, and she was pretty excited about it, of course,” Koering said. “I just need some nice pictures in return, that’s all I want.
“I did not try and grow it. And I don’t know if it can be done, to be honest with you. It’s just rare, I think, you know? I’ve done it for 20 years, and I’ve only had four of them — total.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports farmers in the top five pumpkin-producing states of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas and California harvested about 1 billion pounds of pumpkins in 2018.
According to Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, who writes The Hoosier Gardener column for The Indianapolis Star, fertilization of two of a flower’s ovaries instead of the usual one is what causes conjoined produce.
“It’s not terribly uncommon,” Sharp wrote. “Some horticulturists say it’s about the same frequency as human twin births.”
Down on the farm
Boys-N-Berries Farm in Brainerd includes 10 acres worth of pumpkins, gourds and as well as corn stalks, straw bales, mums and more that attract visitors. Robert Nibbe owns the farm.
“We bring 31 varieties of pumpkins up to our yard, and people can walk around the yard and select from what we have here,” Nibbe said. “We had a phenomenal year for growing. … We had rainfall events that happened right when we needed them — a lot of sun, a lot of humidity.”
Boys-N-Berries Farm’s pumpkin season-opening weekend was the last weekend of September. Nibbe purchased the property in 1999 with his four boys and started with 2 acres of strawberries.
“And we found out that strawberries required a lot of weeding. The shelf life of a strawberry is a couple of days and the shelf life of a pumpkin is about two months, so that made it a really easy transition for us. And so we’ve been doing pumpkins for about eight to 10 years,” Nibbe said.
Nibbe said revenue generated from pumpkin sales is earmarked to pay for his boys’ college expenses.
“And then there’s all kinds of opportunities for taking pictures here, so there’s no charge to come onto the property at all. All we do is charge for the pumpkins, gourds and squash that they might want to take home with them,” Nibbe said.
Boys-N-Berries Farm has had a few conjoined pumpkins over the years, including one harvested this year from his farm. And they have sold very well, according to Nibbe.
“We generally find one or two a year where they come off the same stem and it’s very interesting … a fluke of nature,” Nibbe said. “We have about 20,000 pumpkins here in a season, so there’s a lot of opportunity for that to happen.”
But this year, conjoined ears of corn grown on Boys-N-Berries Farm took center stage. Nibbe brought the cornstalk back to his house for safekeeping.
“I think even with this COVID people are really looking for things to do as a family, and we can offer them the space that they need, you know, for the social distancing — like 90% of what we have is outside — and people can just keep their safe space and take their time,” Nibbe said.