SHERIDAN – The Koltiska Pumpkin Patch east of Sheridan opened Thursday in what has become a favorite fall tradition for many Sheridan residents.
Gary and Vicki Koltiska have raised pumpkins on their farm for close to 20 years, but only in the past nine years have they operated as a pick-your-own operation.
Their pumpkin farming enterprise began when Gary Koltiska acquired a portion of the farm, which had previously been owned by his parents. However, he was undecided on what to plant there, until Vicki came home one day and he informed her that they would be growing pumpkins.
“I said why?” Vicki Koltiska said. “He said ‘because someone said I couldn’t. So he planted five acres of pumpkins and he hand planted every seed. It took him and my son over two days to get them planted. By fall we had a beautiful stand of pumpkins.”
The couple sold the pumpkins in local grocery stores for several years, but when locally-owned grocery stores began to close, they lost those outlets. Instead, they opened the field to the community one year for pick-your-own and were impressed by the response.
“When he used to pick them (for local stores) he would pick a certain size and shape,” Koltiska said, noting that small or misshapen pumpkins were left for their cows to eat. “So the first year he was totally amazed at the pumpkins that people would bring in (from the field). They were all enthused about finding something different shaped.”
The farm now hosts several hundred children and adults each year who are searching for the perfect pumpkin.
The Koltiskas have four different five-acre fields that they plant on a rotating basis. They raise several different varieties of pumpkins, keeping some tried and true varieties and experimenting with new ones each year as well.
“There are all kinds of sizes, shapes and colors out there, even striped ones,” Koltiska said. “My husband tried three new varieties this year and we have never seen as many large pumpkins as we have seen this year. We’ve pulled a lot of 40 to 50 pounders and we pulled a 65 pounder. The vines are still green, so who knows what is still out there. Right now it is like an Easter egg hunt.”
In addition to individuals and families coming to the patch, the farm has hosted birthday parties and school groups, with some schools turning the outing into a science lesson, in addition to a fun afternoon of pumpkin hunting.
“I like to do some sort of data collection,” said Annette Graham, who teaches fifth and sixth grade at Clearmont Elementary and has taken her classes to the patch. “The days of going on a field trip to just go on a field trip are over, there has to be an educational connection. We have to connect the field trip and what we do to the content we are trying to teach in the classroom. It’s about student engagement. Students need to be excited about what they are learning and that is one of the ways we can do that is through these field trips.”
Graham said the Clearmont and Arvada elementary schools will travel to the pumpkin patch on Oct. 3 for the afternoon. She said last year’s lessons varied by grade level and will likely be similar this year, with some students doing writing and sensory skills activities, some students collecting science data and the kindergarten classes doing basic counting and measuring.
Koltiska recommends wearing long pants and closed-toe shoes for harvesting to protect against the abrasive vines. She said she has cookies, coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade and water in the shop area for folks to relax after choosing their pumpkins. She also has corn stalks for sale for fall decorating and usually has several of her farm animals available for children to see and pet.
Pumpkins cost $6 for the first pumpkin for each person in the group. After that first pumpkin, additional pumpkins cost $1 to $5 depending on size.
The patch opened on Thursday and will remain open until the day before Columbus Day or until the weather frosts the pumpkins. Due to weather concerns, Koltiska recommended visiting the patch earlier rather than later.
“We have to fight the weather here,” she said. “I tell everybody that wants to do it later to come earlier instead. I say you can put them in the garage where it is cool and as long as you don’t put holes in them they will last for months, but I can’t go out there and protect five acres of pumpkins”
Hours are Wednesday through Friday, from 3 to 6 p.m. and from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends. Koltiska suggested that groups with more than 15 people should call to make a reservation at 737-2272.
The farm is located at 120 Cat Creek Road. east of Sheridan. Koltiska said to reach the farm, travel east on Fifth Street, one mile past the information center and turn right on County Road. 84. From there, orange directional signs will point the way to the farm.