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Pumpkins Not Just for Halloween Anymore

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Photo: Wayne McLaurin

That nip in the fall air means pumpkin season is here.

From home harvest scenes to commercial advertisements, pumpkins have become the standard backdrop from early October to Thanksgiving. They're not just for Halloween anymore.

Georgia's commercial pumpkin production is relatively small. But interest in pumpkins extends to almost everyone.

From the home gardener to the 4-H Club competition, trying to grow the biggest pumpkin continues to fascinate people. Miniature pumpkins are just as popular. Pie pumpkins are the choice for cooking. And about the last week in October, almost everyone turns his attention to the search for the perfect jack-o'-lantern.

Pumpkins, Entertainment Farms

Pumpkins have become the centerpiece of the entertainment farming business. Entertainment farming is a term used for farms offering tours, hayrides, carving classes and field trips as part of their sales business.

What could be better than a trip to the country in the fall air, taking a hayride through the fields, sampling fresh-made pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie and carrying home the perfect pumpkin?

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Photo: Faith Peppers

Pumpkins mean fun on north Georgia "entertainment farms."

Georgia grows about 500 acres of pumpkins, not counting the backyard bounty. However, most pumpkins sold in Georgia come from Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana.

Don't Expect World Record

In south Georgia, disease and insect problems hinder production. But pumpkins grow quite well in north Georgia. Just don't expect to grow a world record pumpkin anywhere in Georgia.

The largest pumpkins recorded for Georgia are in the 350- to 400-pound range. The world record stands above 1,000 pounds. The record-setters were grown in either Europe or Canada, where the climate is much milder.

Pumpkins grow on vines that require a lot of space. That often limits home gardens. However, many newer varieties have restricted vines or bush-type vines and can be grown in smaller areas. This is particularly true for the miniatures.

Most miniature pumpkins are actually gourds. The unique shapes and colors and diminutive size make them ideal for decorative displays.

White Pumpkins for Artists

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Photo: Faith Peppers

A white pumpkin makes a perfect canvas for a skilled artist.

An interesting oddity is the white pumpkin. White on the outside and orange inside, these pumpkins have become increasingly popular for painting. The white exterior makes the perfect canvas for the skilled artist. These works of art won't take a place alongside the Mona Lisa in 100 years, though. They will decay over time.

While many of our vegetables come from other continents, pumpkins originated in the Americas. Production in south Georgia is a challenge, but not impossible. Recent and upcoming advances in pest control and disease-resistant varieties may one day make it much more feasible.

Pumpkins are usually planted in May and June in north Georgia and June and July in south Georgia. Depending on the vine type, they require 15 to 50 square feet of space per plant. Varieties usually require 75 to 120 days from planting to maturity.

Pumpkins fare well with organic fertilizer amendments, since they're not heavy users of nitrogen. To try your hand at growing your own crop, consult your county extension office.

Buy Fully Mature Pumpkins

If you prefer to buy your pumpkins, always look for one with a good strong handle that has no damage. Fully mature pumpkins will most often have a dull sheen and will be of the color typical for that variety.

Pumpkins that are damaged or not fully mature when they're picked will have a short shelf life. Even when picked ripe, most pumpkins will store for only one to four months. Southern-grown pumpkins store less than that.

Pumpkins can be a great source of entertainment, whether at the entertainment farming venue or in your own back yard. Arrange a table display with miniatures. Carve your own jack-o-lantern. Make pumpkin pie from an old family recipe.

Whether you paint a unique picture on a white pumpkin canvas or just brag about having the biggest pumpkin at the fair, pumpkins always bring fun to fall.

(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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