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Keep pumpkin from turning scary before its time

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Plenty of good pumpkins should be available for Georgia shoppers this Halloween. And a few precautions can make sure that pretty pumpkin doesn't turn scary before its time.

Properly cured pumpkins can last as long as three months, said Ken Seebold, a plant pathologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. A pumpkin needs a consistent 80-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature for about two weeks to cure.

Pickin' a punkin'

"Most pumpkins on the market should be sound and should last through the Halloween season," Seebold said.

But shoppers can look for a few things to avoid getting a bad pumpkin, he said. Avoid pumpkins with mushy handles, or stems. This is a sign of disease. Pumpkins with cracks or pits in the rind may decay early.

To prolong the life of pumpkins, keep them out of direct sunlight and in a dry, cool place, said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the UGA Extension Service. But once you carve that pumpkin into a jack-o'-lantern, its life becomes shorter.

"It will start to break down quickly," Kelley said. "You can preserve it a little longer by placing a damp towel over it when it's not on display." Refrigeration will extend the life of a jack-o'-lantern, too.

Georgia pumpkins

With only about 400 acres of pumpkins, Georgia is a relatively small pumpkin-producing state, Kelley said. Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana produce much more than Georgia. Tennessee has about 4,500 acres of pumpkins a year.

"Georgia imports the vast majority of pumpkins sold here," Kelley said. "But most of the pumpkins grown in Georgia are sold locally at retail roadside markets."

Georgia's crop is good this year despite wet summer weather. "We had just enough dry spells to allow the crop to make," Kelley said.

Because of the wet weather, however, diseases were tough on the 2003 crop. "Georgia pumpkins are susceptible to a number of diseases caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses," Seebold said.

A disease called Phytophthora crown rot likes warm, wet weather and caused a lot of problems for some growers, he said.

Most of Georgia's pumpkins are grown in the northern part of the state, where it's just cool enough to keep disease pressure to a minimum. It's hard to grow pumpkins in south Georgia's climate without intense management.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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