The Missoula Alliance Church Pumpkin Patch won't officially open until October, but attentive pumpkin growers began getting the pumpkins off the ground on Sunday afternoon.

Retired Missoula orthodontist Fred Sayer and his wife Carolyn have been growing pumpkins for the annual fundraising patch for several years, but he said this year's crop is the biggest yet.

"This year, we planted 970 hills of pumpkins, and theoretically every hill should produce about four pumpkins, so just rounding up, that's about four thousand pumpkins," Sayre said. "And, if each pumpkin weighs an average of about eight pounds, well, you do the math."

I did, and that comes to about 32,000 pounds of pumpkins, from Sayre's super-secret quarter-acre plot in the Miller Creek area.

The Sayres and several other volunteers from the church were busy harvesting the pumpkins on Sunday afternoon and getting them up off the ground because the weather has not cooperated as in recent years.

"First we had that hard frost," Sayre said. "Then with the super hot weather and the rain,  the pumpkins stopped growing and started to become a little soft, so we're putting them in trailers and out of the weather."

Sayre, his wife, children and grandchildren have been patiently working in their pumpkin patch all spring and summer, even utilizing an electric fence to keep the deer and other hungry critters away.

"I saw a whitetail buck put his tongue on the wire once," Sayre said. "He must have jumped about two feet off the ground. He was fine, though."

The reason for so much work in this, and other pumpkin patches around the area, is actually several thousand miles away.

"We raise the pumpkins and sell them at the pumpkin patch is to raise funds for missions," Sayre said. "We have short-term mission trips to El Salvador and to China, and the money we raise helps people to be able to go and serve those people overseas. The patch will open October 11th and it will run until Halloween or we're out of pumpkins. The first day, we're going to have pony rides, and then two weeks later we're going to have a family fun day with pumpkin-chucking contests, cotton candy and have a ball, a good family time."

Missoula Alliance Church is located at the top of Hillview Way, and the pumpkin patch will be visible from quite a distance away, starting October 11.