Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pumpkin Patch Report: Webb Ranch (Portola Valley)

What, you thought I was done? You thought that after hitting 6 patches in 3 counties in 5 days last week, I would never want to set foot in a pumpkin patch again? Well, my friend, you don't know Silicon Valley Toddler. With the tenacity and single-minded focus of a three year old, I am going to hit every.single.patch in our area.

Okay, that's a lie. I'm actually only reviewing the good ones, and with those I'm almost done. Webb Ranch (located on Alpine road, just to the right of the Highway 280 interchange in Portola Valley) was one of the last highly-recommended patches on my list, so we drove up yesterday morning to give it a try.

What jumped out to me most at Webb Ranch were the pumpkins (and in the "pumpkin patch" category, that's got to be a good thing, right?). In varying shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of "character" and perfection, these are really, really attractive specimens of everybody's favorite orange squash -- overall, probably the prettiest I've seen this fall.

And of course, they aren't all orange. As those of you who saw yesterday's Facebook post about our growing pumpkin collection might recall, one of the ones we took home was a beautiful dark green. Webb Ranch also has light green, white, white and orange speckled, a bright/dark orange variety -- lots of choices. And all were very pretty.

For the most part, the prices are comparable to what I've seen at some patches -- maybe a bit higher. The only exceptions are the Wee Bee pumpkins, which are $2 here, versus $1 each at Uesugi (can't recall the price at other local spots).

I chatted for a while with Deano Lovecchio, who grows pumpkins for the ranch and manages the pumpkin patch. He shared plenty of neat pumpkin facts with me, and even cut a pumpkin open for Toddler X and his pal to smell (top right photo, above), and for all of us to taste (Delicious! Raw pumpkin -- the cooking varieties at least -- tastes a lot like melon.)

The size and layout of the patch itself are limited by the space constraints of the location. Unlike some of the larger properties (Perry Farms or Rodoni or Giordano), you won't find vast spreads of pumpkins in a field -- instead, there are large numbers of pumpkins arranged closely together. This can be a good thing (in that great pumpkins are easy to find and access, and you can keep your toddler close at hand), or a bad thing (if you want your toddler to roam free in a patch and get tired out before naptime). In addition to the pumpkins amassed down in the patch, you can actually walk up the hill to the field where they grow the little pumpkins and stroll among the vines to find your favorite (middle left photo, above). 

In addition to beautiful pumpkins, Webb Ranch has lots of fun hay bales for climbing and various activities, including two jumpy houses (not my favorite attribute, but I like the patch as a whole, so I'll let it slide), a little tractor-train that goes around a small pumpkin field, a small haunted house, and, on the weekends, hayrides, pony rides and a petting zoo with a rotating cast of animals. Although I didn't see these things in action because I visited on a weekday, Deano shared with me that the hay ride goes into the actual corn fields, with the driver stopping the tractor so kids can get out and taste the corn, and that the pony rides are hand led through a little course, rather than just having the ponies harnessed in a circle (as they do at Lemos Farm). 

The Farmers' Market is also open, and I couldn't help but buy some of the gorgeous apples, pears and strawberries (amazingly sweet -- we finished them by the time we got to the car). They also have local honey, jams, tomatoes and corn. 

Crowds may be an issue. We were there on a Wednesday morning, and there were several school groups on the property. It wasn't a problem, but I could see it feeling very congested on weekends -- given the setting, they just don't have the wide open space that you'll find at Giordano's, for example. I spoke with the lady in the farm stand, and she said the quietest time is probably 11-2  on weekdays -- the time after most field trips have gone, and before school gets out. 

In terms of logistics, the patch is open daily from 10 a.m. to dusk. They take cash and all major credit cards (that's a plus -- many patches do not.) 

There is parking right at the front entrance to the patch/Farmers' Market, but if that's full, follow the driveway up and around to the left to reach the overflow lot. You then walk past the pumpkin field -- pumpkins on vines, wow! -- and down the hill to the patch. They have wheelbarrows to help you get your pumpkins back up the hill to your car. 

One final caveat: this may not be the place to wear your nicest clothes. Unlike many patches where the ground covering is straw, here it appears to be sawdust with some dirt mixed in. Toddler X got FILTHY (see below) putting handfuls of sawdust into the wheelbarrows (the fact that he was eating a strawberry concurrently probably didn't help). The pumpkins get a bit dusty  too. Not a big issue, just something to be aware of, particularly if you're sensitive to dust or usually choose to pick pumpkins in a white dress. 

Overall, a very pleasant patch. Though it lacks the wide-open feel of some of the more spacious patches, the picture-worthy pumpkins, wide selection and convenient location (it took me less time to get here from my home in San Jose than to get to some of the San Jose patches!) make it a solid choice. 

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