Pumpkin patch showdown: Three pumpkin-picking experiences around Iowa City

Countryside escapes, community-oriented farms, ease of access and convenience — all play a part in the process of picking pumpkins. With the midst of fall upon us, it’s time for many to choose their pumpkins from the variety of options the Iowa City area has to offer.


Matthew Kennedy

Pumpkins are seen at Wilson’s Apple Orchard on Oct. 13. Wilson’s Apple Orchard is one of the three locations pumpkins were acquired.

Ellie Heeren, Arts Reporter

Apple cider, fall-spiced donuts, and local pumpkin patches: It is officially time for autumn’s classic activities and traditions. Having the most authentic fall experience and finding the best pumpkin can be difficult, so I visited three pumpkin providers to discover how they compare.

Hidden away by a veil of autumn orange trees on the outskirts of Iowa City lies a peaceful escape from life. A staple of fall culture in Iowa City, Wilson’s Orchard and Farm was the first stop on my adventure for pumpkins. I walked down the hill toward the fields of apple trees and picked a few late-season fruits before searching for my pumpkin.

The pumpkin selection was plentiful. After about 20 minutes of scavenging, I found my pumpkin — one of the largest I could find. The pumpkin was in great condition, with no holes or molding anywhere.

I couldn’t stop myself from also buying a hot cup of apple cider and a sugar-coated apple cider donut among the plentiful treats and souvenirs in Wilson’s gift shop. Next to the gift shop was a smokehouse where I ate delicious smoked chicken and greens. I left with my first pumpkin of the season and a full stomach.

Jocelyn Taylor, a University of Iowa fourth-year student,  explained her thoughts on the farm and the food she tried for the first time, including a pulled pork sandwich and homemade cider. She noted she was going to paint her pumpkin instead of carving it, and she liked the variety of pre-picked pumpkins at Wilson’s.

“I have been to Wilson’s farm before, and I enjoy it every time I go,” Taylor said. “My favorite part is definitely the gift shop. Looking at all the homemade jams and drinks and knowing I’m supporting a small business always makes me be coming back next year.”

Wilson’s has no admission fee, and the pumpkin I bought was $12 based on its size. Wilson also has other feautres such as apple picking, a ciderhouse and venue, and a farm market.

My next stop was Colony Acres located in North Liberty. Colony Acres has been open to the public for 17 years, but they are celebrating their 95th year of farming. The environment here was very welcoming and family-friendly, fitting well with its family-owned status.

Current owners, Katie and Dean Colony noted the farm was annexed into the city of North Liberty earlier in the year. Katie Colony said it was a milestone for the farm because it helped “seal the deal” with the North Liberty community.

There were activities people of all ages could enjoy at Colony Acres — not just for kids. There were giant yard games as well as a mini zip line, a giant 24-foot-tall double slide, a barrel train, a bounce pad, human-sized hamster wheels, a grain-bin basketball, a corn cannon, a paintball shootout shack, a little tire mountain, tube swings, a spiderweb attraction, and a corn maze.

The Colony Acres corn maze theme changes each year. This year, it was made to celebrate its 95th year as a farm. They pick a cause for the maze to support to give back to the community each year. They also have a 5k charity run through the maze at 10 a.m. on Oct 10 titled “Miles in the Maize.” Proceeds from the run will be donated to the “No Foot Too Small” organization. The Colony family designed this event to be accessible for people of all ages and abilities, even including a costume contest.

“We start planting out pumpkins shortly after Memorial Day,” Dean Colony said. “We plant around 40 different varieties of pumpkins ranging from the giants all the way down to the small gourds. We also plant different shapes, sizes, and colors like orange, blue, pink, yellow, white, and green.”

I walked out to the pumpkin patch to pick my own pumpkin, but the farm also has pre-picked pumpkins for those who cannot access the fields. On the weekends, they offer hay rides to the pumpkin field and back. The weekly admissions price for Colony Farms is $10 online and $12 in person. On the weekends, it is $12 or $14.

I decided to go with a classic large orange pumpkin for $10. When I returned from the patch, I bought some mini donuts and an apple cider slushie before heading home with my second pumpkin.

For my last pumpkin, I visited Hy-Vee to compare store-bought pumpkins to those grown and picked in local pumpkin patches. There wasn’t much of a selection compared to the farms, and the pumpkins were ultimately smaller. In the end, I did find a pumpkin to bring home for $5.

After I bought all the pumpkins, I brought them to my patio and outlined where I would carve their faces. A creepy smiling face for Wilson’s pumpkin, an angry face for Colony Acres, and a sad face for Hy-Vee.

I started carving the Wilson pumpkin first. Cutting a circle around the stem and pulling out the seeds is definitely my favorite part. I filled two large bowls with seeds from the first pumpkin alone. It took me about 40 minutes to scoop out all the insides before moving on to the actual carving. The pumpkin was thick and difficult to carve into, but in the end the jack-o-lantern turned out pretty well.

Next up was the pumpkin from Colony Acres. This too was a relatively large pumpkin, but surprisingly only filled a bowl and a half with seeds. The pumpkin itself was perfect on the outside and made a great canvas for carving out a spooky face. It took me about an hour and a half to scoop and carve this pumpkin and turned out to be my favorite of the three.

I carved the Hy-Vee pumpkin last. This pumpkin was significantly smaller than the other two, and the seeds barely filled a single bowl. This pumpkin was easier to carve through, however, and turned out much better than I expected. I personally enjoy going to local farms and picking my own pumpkins, but the store still had a good selection to choose from.

The overall experience of going to both farms was delightful. Wilson’s Orchard and Farm was a nice breath of fresh air, whereas Colony Acres was a joyous and eventful experience. I would recommend anyone visit both farms before the season is over for all the best fall activities.