TWO SCHOOL friends have turned their fallow lockdown period into a productive season by growing pumpkins on East Lothian's Balgone Estate.

Instead of lamenting the impact of Covid-19 on their studies and social life, university students David Grant Suttie (21) and Alex Humphreys (22) began researching how best to fill their time – and stumbled upon the idea of growing pumpkins as a diversification project.

Six months on, the thousands of pumpkin seeds they planted have flourished into a bumper crop to harvest, and the young entrepreneurs have launched Balgone Pumpkins online, taking bookings from local families looking for a fun Halloween-themed day out in the East Lothian countryside.

David explained: “Over the last number of years, we have expanded our network of public paths around the Estate linking to the John Muir Way and during lockdown we saw numbers of visitors increase significantly.

"We have really enjoyed the technical side of growing the pumpkins as well as the creative side such as designing the Spooky Lake Trail and making the signage as well as building the website. We have also linked with local quality food suppliers so we can showcase the food producers from the region. It has been very much a steep learning curve with lots of support from friends and family – all we need now are people to come and enjoy what we have created.”

Balgone Pumpkins will open on October 16 to 18 , 23 to 25 and 30 to 31. Pre-booking is essential and social distancing measures will be in place. Entry per car is £5 redeemable against a pumpkin purchase, which range between £2 and £8 dependent on size.

Fellow Loretto school friend, Alex, who spent lockdown with David and his family, was only too pleased to take the pumpkin project forward: “Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, I have taken to growing pumpkins like a duck to water! It has been challenging, especially with the dry Spring which meant that we had to water the seedlings twice a day for weeks on end.

"I have a new appreciation of how hard farmers work and how a simple procedure isn’t as straightforward as it first seems. It is important that those of us who aren’t close to food production gain an understanding of what it takes to put food on our table and how supporting our farmers by buying locally and sustainably is so important.”

Now the duo are hoping that their lockdown project will be the start of an ongoing diversification plan for the farm that has been in the family since the 1700s, and which is already a host farm for the Royal Highland Education Trust.