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Favorite fall feature not that easy to grow

SALISBURY — Halloween is an important holiday for local retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, it’s the second-largest commercial holiday after Christmas. Pumpkins are a big part of this holiday and local retailers are cashing in on that.
Pumpkins are not easy to grow. Pumpkin fruits often succumb to insect and disease problems that seem to plague late summer vegetables. Rainy weather experienced this past summer hampers efforts, primarily with fungal diseases. Humidity is a primary problem with fungal diseases.
Ironically, hot, dry weather that is a curse to most crops is actually a blessing, preventing many fungal disease problems.
Pumpkins belong to the family of cucurbits, growing very slowly, requiring many months to mature. Growers select pumpkin varieties that are timed to mature in early fall.
Pumpkin producers strategically place honey bee colonies near the fields to assist in pollination. Bees are necessary for pollination of pumpkin and other cucurbit crops such as squash, cucumber and cantaloupe.
Water is another important factor in pumpkin production. Even though water was not a factor for growth this season, drip irrigation is necessary during summer droughts to ensure adequate growth and development.
Jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkins are harvested when fruit turns a brilliant orange, the vines begin to die down and the stem becomes brown and tough. The outside rind of the pumpkin should be very firm. Those who planted their pumpkin seed too late in the season may produce only green pumpkins, which fail to ripen correctly.
Pumpkins should be stored in a cool and dry location. To extend the pumpkin’s life, wash the entire fruit in a 1 to 10 percent solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) of household bleach. Dry the pumpkin, being careful not to damage the skin.
Many home gardeners are interested in growing large pumpkins, especially large jack-o’-lantern type fruit. There is an entire culture dedicated to growing large pumpkins. The largest pumpkin ever was grown by a man from California this summer. His pumpkin set world record at a weight 2,032 pounds.
The NC Dept. of Agriculture website http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson028.shtml has an abundance of pumpkin trivia including school lesson plans. It’s worth a glance to see and learn about these giant pumpkins.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970.

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