Pumpkin Drought?

By: Susan Bahorich
By: Susan Bahorich

This summer's drought may affect this fall's Halloween. A pumpkin shortage has been reported in parts of the nation. But, it doesn't seem to be affecting business in the Shenandoah Valley.

For kids like 11-year-old Andrew Lightner the search is on for the perfect pumpkin. He is looking for a dark orange one that's ripe. This fall Andrew, and kids like him want the gourd that will "light up" their Halloween. They don't even realize the work that goes on behind the scenes.

Leon Heatwole, who is with the Shen Ville Creamery and Garden watering the pumpkins includes pulling a big hose out and then reeling it back in. It waters as it goes. Employees had to irrigate the crops to make up for this summer's lack of rain and that adds up.
Heatwole says the cost on the irrigation is the labor, keeping the machines going, the fuel and the electric.

While the pumpkins are thriving - they may not stack up to last year's batch. One produce manager, Miguel Toscano, says pumpkins didn't get that big this year, about 70 percent.

He says last year some were 240-pounds and really big, this year not so much, the pumpkins are only 180-200.

But, whether they weigh 200 or two-pounds, they kids don't mind, as long as they have a pumpkin of their own.

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Harvesting Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard. If vines remain healthy, harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts.

  • If vines die prematurely from disease or other causes, harvest the mature fruit and store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween. Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached.

  • Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing "handles." Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have sharp prickles on their stems.

  • Avoid cutting and bruising the pumpkins when handling them. Fruits that are not fully mature or that have been injured or subjected to heavy frost do not keep. Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F.

Tips for Growing Giant Pumpkins

  • Soil prep, most important factor, after testing and adjusting soil use large quantity of partially decomposed compost.
  • Start seeds in pots early to provide for longest growing season for your zone. Move seedling to warm outside soil and temperatures 65°F or provide mini-greenhouse.
  • Fertilize, first with higher phosphorus for roots, later with balanced fertilizer.
  • Water, fortifying with liquid fertilizer, growing pumpkins requires gallons of water.
  • After pumpkins start growing, limit vines to one or two. Be ready to adjust vine positions as pumpkins grow larger.
  • Make sure pumpkins get as much sun as possible.

    Pumpkin Facts

    • Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack.
    • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.
    • Pumpkins are used for feed for animals.
    • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
    • Pumpkins are used to make soups, pies and breads.
    • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
    • Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits.
    • Pumpkins originated in Central America.
    • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
    • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
    • Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds.
    • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
    • The name pumpkin originated from "pepon" – the Greek word for "large melon."
    • The Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.
    • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.
    • Pumpkins are fruit.
    • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
    • In colonial times, Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin in an open fire.
    • Colonists sliced off pumpkin tips; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.
    • Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats.
    • Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm squash."
    • Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

    Source: www.urbanext.uiuc.edu (Urban Programs Resource Network Web site) contributed to this report.

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