A guide to seasonal fun in Marshall County
Sept. 23 marks the official start of fall with signs of the season popping up all over Marshall County.
“There are a ton of things going on in nature, and oftentimes we tend to not notice those smaller details, like animals stockpiling food for the winter,” said Emily Herring, director of the Marshall County Conservation Board.
Monarch butterflies and large groups of dragonflies will soon be taking to the skies for migration south.
At Grammer Grove Wildlife Area, volunteers gather daily to count hawks passing through the area. The process began this month and will go into December.
“Songbirds will be leaving soon as well as hummingbirds and orioles,” she said. “They will be replaced by dark-eyed juncos and some owls.”
Herring said the number of people out fishing tends to spike in the fall because fish don’t bite as much during the hottest days of summer.
If you’re looking for a new public fishing spot, try Arti and Red’s Pond, located south of Marshalltown off Highway 330.
“The Iowa DOT offered Marshall County Conservation the opportunity to buy it, and we were fortunate to have recently received a donation from the Arti and Red Wansley Memorial to be able to purchase the property,” Herring noted.
The pond contains bluegill, red-eared sunfish, crappie and bass.
The annual Zombie Run 5K will take place Oct. 21 at Grimes Farm. Runners will begin the race at 6:30 p.m. and try to “survive” the trails by avoiding brain-eating zombies that will attempt to steal their brains (flags from flag football belts).
Herring explained that volunteers would be outfitted in costume and makeup to portray the creatures. Registration is $30 and includes swag items, a finisher medal, walking “dead” taco meal, zombie antidote (Gatorade) and zombie cookie. The registration deadline is Oct. 14. Day of the race registration is welcome but the medal, swag item and meal will only be guaranteed for the first 100 runners.
Register here: www.eventbrite.com/e/2023-park-apocalypse-zombie-run-tickets-703438843517?aff=erelexpm.
A Change of Season walk will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 at Grammer Grove. There is no fee to participate, but preregistration is required by Oct. 18 before 4 p.m.
Register by calling 641-752-5490, emailing email@example.com, or texting only 641-758-9777.
“We have a lot of activities going on this season. Check out our Facebook page and newsletter to learn more,” Herring said.
To sign up to be a zombie or other volunteer, contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 641-844-2833.
Kelly Mason, who owns and operates Appleberry Farm with her family, said she offers 28 varieties of apples — something for everyone.
“Everybody has different tastes. When people ask ‘what’s the best apple,’ I kind of chuckle because some people like it sweet, tart, crispy, softer,” Mason said. “Later in the season a lot of people come for the Chieftain, which was developed at ISU. It’s a cross between a Jonathan and a red delicious. They’re a really good all-purpose (apple).”
The riper an apple gets, the softer it will be to bite into.
“Wealthy apples get softer much quicker, McIntosh too,” she added. “Most apples at the peak of perfection are pretty crisp.”
Apple cider, apple slushies and apple donuts are best sellers this time of year, as are caramel apples.
Mums are the most popular autumn plant and come in a variety of hues.
“People are done with their hanging baskets and flowering annuals and are ready for fall mums to set on their porch or make displays in their yard with the little pumpkins,” she explained. “Mums can take a little frost but bring them in at night when it drops below freezing.”
She added that mums could be planted in September before it gets too cold.
“Make sure to add mulch. If the winter’s not too harsh, a lot of times they’ll come back next season,” she said.
If you’re in the market for a good pumpkin — to eat, carve, decorate or give to animals — there are many local options.
“Our biggest pumpkin patch this year is the smaller, white pumpkins,” Mason said. “We have blue and pink too. They’re not color-enhanced. They grow that way. The blue vary from gray-blue to greenish-blue. The pink ones are more peachy. If you grow them too close together they can be pink and blue at the same time.”
Lynne Pfantz, who co-owns Dusty Hill Farm with her husband Larry, near State Center, said peanut and popcorn “warty types” are popular choices if you’re seeking something different from the classic look. These varieties have skin that looks bumpy, which is actually just a buildup of excess sugar in the flesh.
“People like to put those types of pumpkins in displays,” she said.
While pretty much all pumpkins and squashes are edible, some more than others are better for baking. If you want to eat your pumpkin, look for pie or sweet varieties.
“They’re bred for that reason, are smaller and easier to cut and cook,” Pfantz said. They’re in the two to five pound range.”
Captain Jack pumpkins are extra large, tall and barrel-shaped, ideal for carving jack-o-lanterns. She added that they should be between 10 to 15 pounds. Be careful if eating them too as they can be stringy.
If you’re not sure what to do with the guts once you’ve carved it, Pfantz likes to feed them to her chickens.
“You can throw it in your compost pile too, but it can result in pumpkin plants, which you may or may not want,” she said.
White pumpkins provide a fun contrast to the usual orange shades.
“A lot of people do stencil designs on the white ones,” she added.
Red warty thing pumpkins have a thick rind, making them extra hearty for outdoor displays. They’re also tasty for baking.
Highland Hills Farm just outside of Marshalltown specializes exclusively in pumpkins. It opens for the season Sept. 23 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and every weekend after that through the end of October.
“What we find at the beginning of fall is specialty pumpkins are popular: white, blue and pink,” said Afton Coleman, who owns the farm with her husband Blake. “As we get closer to Halloween, a lot of folks are out looking for a nice carving pumpkin for Beggars Night.”
Coleman most enjoys baking the blue variety of pumpkin.
“Use it as décor, then towards the end of the season, roast it in the oven,” she added.
She likes to keep pureed pumpkin in her freezer so it’s handy for soups, pies and bars.
“I’ll take a bag of the pureed pumpkin and add it into my chili,” she said.
When in doubt about what type of pumpkin to get, just ask the grower.
“See what they recommend,” Coleman said. “Some may look similar to each other but actually be different kinds.”
To shop the latest produce, baked goods and crafts, visit the Cartwright Downtown Farmer’s Market, which is open Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, located at 108 N. 2nd Ave.