PANDORA — Some mark seasons by the changing of the leaves or the return of children to their school work. Others note that when the Suter’s little red barns start closing down after they’ve sold all the sweet corn they had, the fall events at the farm aren’t too far behind.
And this year — even in a year that is markedly different than most — Suter’s corn maze and fall activities are open for business.
“This has been a challenging spring and summer with everything,” Tom Suter said. “We want an opportunity for families to just have fun together outside in a safe way.”
He said they are working closely with the health department.
“We’re going to do exactly what they recommended,” Suter said. “We feel very comfortable with the precautions that we’re taking and hope everybody is willing to help us out a little with all the rules that we’re doing. Out here in the country, there’s a lot of space out here.”
What is different?
Social distancing is a must, and masks should be worn when you’re unable to social distance.
With a close eye to where people might congregate, organizers decided to cancel the corn boxes, the train for little children and the tube slides. Young children couldn’t be expected to social distance while waiting in line for these things, Suter said.
The corn cannons are still planned to be open, and cleaning and sanitization will be increased in general from years past. Hand sanitizer will be available.
The shuttles, or hay ride wagons, will operate for free this year but at 50% capacity. Masks are required on the shuttles, and family groups will be seated together. To reduce wait times, the shuttles will take customers straight to the pumpkin patch and back instead of taking a scenic route.
The hours of operation are changed slightly, which is not virus related. Dusk makes the corn maze more difficult, so they adjusted their hours a bit earlier in the day.
This year’s corn maze is themed to recognize the 200th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower. Suter designs it digitally and then works with helpers to place flags out in the 8-acre field while the corn is about a foot tall. His son Andrew, who is a freshman, helped place flags with a few other harvesters in June.
“I used to do it all by pencil and paper,” he said. “You go through a lot of erasers.”
His brother, Mark, helped him learn PhotoShop.
“There’s not really an eraser in a cornfield. You make a mistake, and it’s fairly prominent,” Suter said.
The fieldcorn grew to a proper maze height with a little luck. The sweetcorn crop had to be irrigated heavily.
“We planted the corn a little bit later than normal than the rest of our fieldcorn that we would plant, and we had that dry spell, but because our corn was planted just a little bit later it caught a few rains just at the right time. And our corn is tremendous,” Suter said.
Printed maps will be available, as will the scavenger hunt stations inside the maze. New at the end of last year and continuing this year is a map available on mobile phones. Visit sutermazemap.com and enable your GPS location to use it.
Pumpkin and sunflower patch
The 5-acre pumpkin patch continues to offer several varieties of pick-your-own pumpkins. Beside it is the 3-acre sunflower patch, which was new last year.
“We have four different plantings of the sunflower patch, and each planting contains probably 15 or so different varieties of sunflowers,” Suter said. They’ve spaced each planting apart by about a week to try for continuous blooms as late in the season as possible.
“It is gorgeous, just unbelievably gorgeous,” Suter said.
The varieties of sunflowers range in height and color.
“I went out there and was taking some pictures the other day and I said, ‘Man, this is pretty,’” Suter said. They irrigated the sunflowers this year in addition to adding a patch of zinnias. Cut-your-own flowers will be sold again this year by the jar and bucket, and the zinnias add pops of color to the mix.
”We had a little spot of zinnias, just a couple rows … and they were so pretty. We thought, boy, we don’t have enough of these because people liked them so well. It’s just a sea of color,” Suter said.
Cider press and food
The cider press from 1888 has been put into service again this year, with fresh cider sold from 1 to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays at the cider barn. The cider is pressed a couple times a week, Suter said.
The other traditional favorites — cider slushies, doughnuts, kettle corn — are offered again this year.
Suter is excited to get the season started, explaining they’ve heard from a lot of people who said, “We can’t wait for you to be open because we need something fun,” he said.