Monique's Patch: Trenton farmer never met a pumpkin she didn't like

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

Monique Weinberg grows all types of pumpkins.

Most are as fun-looking as their names -- Cinderella, Long Island Cheese and Red Warty Thing.

"It's just a little hobby," said Monique, 54, of rural Trenton.

"I don't grow a lot of normal ones. The bumpier to me, the more character they have. The Red Warty Things, those I like the best. I see a lot of beauty in them.

"When you can get a Red Warty Thing to grow, or the Long Island Cheese -- it's supposed to look like a wheel of cheese -- that's what makes it fun."

On the Sunday before Columbus Day, the teacher and mother of two, invites friends and neighbors to bring their kids and grandkids to her "pumpkin party" in the 3/4-acre patch behind the red barns.

They leave with wheelbarrels full.

Last year, the Zurliene family from Breese went home with 20.

"We had three or four, then Monique came over, and had us take more," said Maria Zurliene, standing mid-patch with sons Garett, 7, and Jackson, 4.

"It's awesome," said Garett. "We always put them on our front porch. Daddy gets a straw bale."

"Monique's farm is the only reason why we do that," said Maria.

"Mom, I found one. I found one," said Jackson. "I found a pumpkin that looks like an egg,"

"It does look like an egg."

Just a lot bigger. Maybe a dinosaur egg.

"I think it's neat to pick which one versus going to the store where they're picked for you," Maria said. "Half the fun of it is being out here."

Just watch so you don't trip over the maze of pumpkin vines.

To make it easy, Monique and husband Kraig provide clippers. They line up a half-dozen wheelbarrows alongside the pumpkin patch. They open the red barns for folks who might want to feed a pig or say hello to a llama. Daughter Emily, 22, runs interference in case a pig or the family dog Sophie won't sit still enough to be petted.

Pumpkins with dramatic vegetable faces rest on hay bales outside the barn. They're the work of Carla Liguori, Monique's artistic sister.

"My dad in his younger days used to decorate pumpkins with peppers," said Monique. "My sister said, 'We have to do something in honor of Dad (Arnold who died in February).'"

Carla and their mom, Betty Liguori, 89, of Toms River, N.J., were there, part of a 12-day visit.

"We shop and cook and bake and have a good time," said Betty, who sat in the sunny driveway visiting with family and friends.

"You raised a great daughter," someone called to Betty on the way to the patch.

That great daughter planted her first pumpkins when her kids, Emily and Kane, were "itty bitty."

"I grew one big one," Monique said. "I'll never forget the delight of seeing it under all that foliage. You get bitten by the bug."

About 10 years ago, she put in enough seeds to harvest one for each of her fifth-graders at Silver Creek Elementary in Troy.

"Once you start growing them, you get addicted," she said. "There's something about a pumpkin. It's kind of like I am Santa Claus, only with pumpkins. My husband has bought into it, too."

Kraig is partial to the Cinderellas.

"They are small and really wide," he said.

Like Cinderella's carriage. It's one of Monique's 70 varieties.

"Every year, there's something new," he said. "She does a lot of online stuff and gets a lot of seeds online. They grow easily, but rare varieties don't produce as many.

"We have trouble growing white ones. We put out a lot of seeds to get a few pumpkins. There's a big difference in varieties as far as how many pumpkins you get."

A wet spring had Monique replanting several times.

"Getting them into the ground was tough," she said. "It was like a monsoon."

"She has to really work to get them started and keep them watered and keep bugs off of them," Kraig said. "We have farm animals and manure. Between the horses and the pigs, the pumpkins really like that."

And bugs like the pumpkins.

"I figure bugs are entitled to a certain amount," Monique said. "They work so hard to drive me crazy."

Still, she perseveres.

"I can't say enough about how much joy the patch has brought me. I have become quite the farmer."

And quite a sharer.

After friends got frustrated because the Weinbergs wouldn't accept money, they put out a donation can for charity. This year, they collected for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Their son Kane, a student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011.

"He's good," Monique said. "You keep your fingers crossed."

Meant to farm

The Weinbergs shared a love of farming from the start.

They met working on a Kansas pig-breeding farm.

Kraig, who grew up on a northern Indiana farm, went to Kansas from college. Monique came out from New Jersey. They moved to the metro-east 30 years ago for Kraig's animal health industry job.

"We started in Highland," said Kraig. "We found this old farmstead. We both liked it. It worked out good.

"We both like being out in the country, We can get our farming fix."

And friends and neighbors can get their pumpkin fix.

Conversation pieces

Neighbor Mary Korte likes the odd ones.

She took a seat alongside Monique's display of unusual pumpkins, each with its named taped to it. Meet Jumbo Pink Banana, Penguin gourd, Blister gourd.

"I come out every year," she said. "It's amazing what you find here. I see new ones every year. I live on a farm. We did grow them, but not like she grows them."

Kraig volunteered to be her pumpkin picker.

"I want a blister one, an elbow one, that peanut one, and one or two big ones."

She figures when her card club sees them sitting atop her well in all their glory they will turn into conversation pieces.

"I belong to quite a few card clubs," Mary said. "They'll say, 'Where did you get so many kinds?' Then they have to stop and look at them on the way out."

Picky pickers

Dawn Waller, of Mascoutah, was part of a party of five pumpkin pickers. She brought her mother-in-law, Mary Ann Waller, her two daughters, Nicole, 9, and Morgan, 7, and their friend, Jessica Bechtoldt, 8.

"This is wonderful," said Dawn. "She has so many varieties. It's a great opportunity for the girls They get to make their own decisions, choose what they like."

One they liked was long, narrow, and so large it took three girls to carry.

"My oldest is 9. She's even quick with the cutter. Be careful, sweetie."

How do they know when they have enough?

"When our wheelbarrow gets full," said Nicole.

The Wallers live on a farm, too.

"Last year, when we had finished with the pumpkins and they rotted, we threw them into the garden," said Dawn. "The plants grew and took over. They creeped into our asparagus patch. Vines grew all over.

"We were climbing through the asparagus patch, looking for pumpkins and gourds. It's not like here, but we had some. We are excited to do it again and see what happens."

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