By William Terry Kelley
University of Georgia
In this flurry of change, the orange glint of pumpkins begins to peek out from under the vines. But harvest time is just the beginning for these versatile fruits.
Already showing up at grocery stores, nurseries, roadside markets and in lawns across America, the pumpkin is as much a part of autumn as the brightly colored leaves.
Pumpkins generally last several weeks after harvest. Of course, once the pumpkin is carved, it shortens the shelf life to a few days.
Consider the possibilitiesBut consider the possibilities. These beautiful fruits come in all sizes and colors. From white to deep orange, from baseball size to the size of a compact car, pumpkins fit into your fall decor in endless ways.
Miniature pumpkins make great tabletop displays. These small fruits are actually gourds and can last throughout the fall. They may be from dark orange to variegated. Often they're coated with a polyurethane finish to make them look shiny and preserve them even longer.
These tiny pumpkins can be carved. But beware. They're mighty tough, and it takes a really sharp knife and careful work to carve them and not your fingers. Another option is to hang them onto small trees like Christmas ornaments to make a pumpkin tree.
Giant jack-o'-lanternsGiant pumpkins are great for outdoors. They make quite a centerpiece for a lawn display. Add a few smaller pumpkins, a bale of hay and a shock or two of corn stalks, and you're the envy of the neighborhood.
These giants range from 60 pounds on up. They're best moved by rolling them onto a small tarp with one person picking up each side. Be prepared to pay a premium price for these wonders of the pumpkin world.
Then, of course, you have your jack-o'-lantern pumpkins. They may be round to oblong, 10 to 40 pounds, light to burnt orange and smooth to heavily ribbed.
If you get them early in the season, you're more likely to get exactly the shape and size you want. Shopping early gives you the chance, too, to display the pumpkin for quite a while before you carve it for Halloween.
Carving kitsSpeaking of carving, many available kits now make carving a true art. The standard triangle eyes and jagged teeth are still fine, but even the novice can produce elaborate designs with the right patterns and tools. Carving kits usually come with both. From witches to ghosts to presidential busts, pumpkin carving can take many forms.
Giant pumpkins are great for sculpting large designs, but they, too, are hard to cut. The shape and size of the pumpkin used for carving will depend on your design.
Original designs can easily be transferred to the pumpkin by drawing it on paper, taping it to the pumpkin and then taking a toothpick to punch dots along the design to guide your carving instruments.
Preserve your creation by placing a damp towel over it when not on display. This may allow it to last a few more days. There's no end to the decorative possibilities with pumpkins.
(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)