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‘Farmer Bob’ has mastered art of growing pumpkins

Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 11:13 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 11:47 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Ty Rushing/Daily News)
Bob Van Arkel is a Newton Fire Department EMS and Firefighter and a few years ago, he took up the hobby of growing pumpkins and gourds on his acreage "Not Quite a Farm."

Ten Commandments, Dinosaur, Birdhouse, Long Island Cheese, Yugoslavian Finger Fruit, Jack Be Little? If you are confused, as you should be, those are just a few of the things that you will find growing on the acreage around “Farmer Bob” Van Arkel’s home just off the Reasnor Road.

So what are these items with the funny sounding names Bob spends enormous amounts of time “babying?” Why various types of pumpkins and gourds, of course. The question is, why did he start growing them?

“This all started off as a competition — I work for the city, I work for the Fire Department as a paramedic and as a firefighter — and about two to three years ago, the gauntlet was laid down,” Bob said. “We were going to have a competition to see who could raise the largest pumpkin.”

Bob said the competition was between three to four firefighters and they are a pretty competitive group. The loser, which would be whoever had the smallest pumpkin, would have to buy the person who grew the largest pumpkin and their spouse a steak dinner.

“I didn’t lose. I came in mid-range,” Bob said. “That was the first year, and over the last two years, as you know, we have had a drought, and things have been pretty nasty as far as water and the growing season. Well, the interest has kind of waned a little bit as we have went down the road here.”

Although it started as competition, Bob has really gotten into growing the pumpkins and gourds.

“I didn’t win that first year, but I thought, ‘I bet I could grow the most pumpkins,’” Bob said. “So the wife was kind of looking for some small exotic looking ones for decoration. I thought, ‘You know, I’ll just start growing some small ones.’ That first year started out kind of small as far as quantity (was concerned).”

Bob now has five separate growing plots for pumpkins and gourds across his property, “Almost a Farm,” which is named in tribute to his father-in-law.

“I’m not saying that I am a large producer by any means, but there are going to be thousands of pumpkins in just this little section here,” Bob said, gesturing a section of “exotic” gourds.

The exotic section has more than its fair share of the uniquely named pumpkins and gourds. Ten Commandants, which is a gourd, can come in various colors and is shaped like a softball with protruding points.

Apple Pumpkins are shaped and colored like a slightly oblong green apple. Spinning Gourds look like a garlic-shaped version of a watermelon. They earned their name because kids used to bring them to school and spin them like a top.

“Some of these are probably good eating, but I don’t use them for that purpose,” Bob said.

Bob plans on selling this year’s harvest, just as he has the down the past few years, in a bin on the side of the road in front of his home. He also experimented by growing them on an upright cow panel this year, which he compared to raising children.

“They are kind of like children, you have to grow them and lead them,” he said jokingly. “That first week or so when they are sending out their main growth, I was kind of training them and taking time out to get them on the (cow) panel. As time went on, it was soon evident I wasn’t going to be able to keep up. It’s kind of like I have to let the kids on the playground do their thing.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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