After growing a small plot of pumpkins on his family's land last year, 10-year-old Roberts resident and fifth grade St. Croix Central Elementary student Thomas Iverson wanted to go bigger for his second foray into pumpkin growing.
"We planted 1,500 seeds by hand, which was actually pretty fun. Then about 1,300 came up," Iverson said. "This is the first year with the actual business. I decided that I wanted to do it because I thought growing pumpkins was fun. Once we got the house, we had an acre of land and had nothing to put in it, so I decided 'let's put in pumpkins!"
Iverson named his pumpkin patch the Black Cat Punkin' Patch — located at 617 County Road J in honor of the black cat that followed him around while he was planting the seeds in early June.
"The black cat helped while I was planting seeds by lying on the hole," Thomas said.
However, before he could plant his seeds, the Iversons had to plow the land they were going to dedicate to the pumpkin patch.
"An older gentleman from our church heard that Thomas wanted to do that and he just showed up one day and disced the whole field and said, 'There you go. It is all ready for your pumpkins,'" said Thomas' mother, Gretchen. "We also borrowed a tractor with a tiller for after the plants came up to keep the weeds down as well. Lots of people helped him."
Not only did Thomas hand plant all of his seeds, but his family had to help him water the plants early in the growing season before his father, Mark, installed an irrigation system.
"We just made holes in the ground and put in the seed," Thomas said. "If you want them to grow big, and we weren't expecting ours to grow this big, you want to put some fertilizer on the field before you do it. Starbucks was doing this thing where they took the extra coffee grounds and bagged it up for your garden. So we put their coffee grounds around our plants and that made them grow extra big."
When the first pumpkins started to take shape, Thomas couldn't have been more excited to see his hard work pay off. The largest pumpkin produced in this year's patch weighed 62 pounds, with the rest of the pumpkins coming in between 30 and 60 pounds.
"I wasn't thinking that my pumpkins would grow that big, given how they started, but then they grew to be enormous," Thomas said.
The Iversons started selling Thomas' pumpkins at the beginning of October, allowing customers to come and pick out their pumpkins right from the field.
"We sold about 900 pumpkins. It was fun to meet a variety of different people. They all liked the cats and snuggled with them. I helped them wipe down their pumpkins after they got back from the field," Thomas said. "The season is done now that some of the pumpkins in the patch are starting to freeze. We are giving a lot of the leftover pumpkins to our friends who have animals so they can feed it to their horses, pigs or any of their other animals."
In order to advertise Thomas' pumpkin patch outside of the local community, Gretchen and Thomas put together a Facebook page for the Black Cat Punkin' Patch.
"The Facebook page attracted a lot of people from all over. We had people from Minneapolis, Spring Valley, east of Eau Claire," Gretchen said. "People seemed to like that it was a simple pick-your-own patch and was a quick in, quick out. People took pictures out there and we even had a family do their newborn baby pictures in the patch.
"A daycare center came by on a day Thomas was off of school so that was really nice, too. It was cold, but they had fun, especially with the things Thomas set up for them to enjoy."
According to Simply Giggle Roberts Childcare & Preschool director Ericka Evans, Thomas set up a variety of activities for her group of 3-year-olds, while his sister, Alyssa, allowed the children to pet her Mini Rex bunnies and taught the children about how she raises and takes care of them.
"They were so excited that we chose their little place to bring our kids to on a field trip that they set up all these fun activities for us to do. They even delivered all of our pumpkins we got as they were too big to fit into our van. Gretchen, Thomas, and Alyssa were so very kind and accommodating to our two teachers and 10 kids," Evans said.
Thomas and his family put the money he made from selling his pumpkins this year toward the purchase of a tractor so that they have their own to use for next year's pumpkin patch.
"But after I get the tractor all paid for, the next thing I'm going to save for is scuba gear. I like swimming and I thought it would be fun to swim in coral reefs while getting to see a bunch of new fish," Thomas said.
Thomas is planning on growing pumpkins for the foreseeable future, but he is considering mixing and matching the varieties with other gourds to see what will grow best. Thomas said he might even try growing a couple giant pumpkins as well.
"It was fun for all of us and I know Thomas had a blast. He would go out and greet everybody and bring a wagon to them for their pumpkin," Gretchen said. "He also donated some of his pumpkins to the elementary school for their second grade pumpkin project.
"We are very proud of him. If he puts his mind to something he will get it done. He is very determined."