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The Great Pumpkins...New York Style
 

What’s all the fuss about?

Illinois is the largest pumpkin producing state, with most of them grown for processing. Last year’s crop was devastated by heavy rains and high humidity resulting in a higher level of diseases and therefore, a shortage of pumpkins for canning purposes. 

 The good news is that this year’s crop is more plentiful in many areas and food processors have indicated that the store shelves will soon be adequately stocked with canned pumpkin.  Hoarding is not necessary.

Photo: NY Farm market displaying 2010 crop.  

Pumpkins in New York
Depending on the year and growing season, New York State ranks #3 or #4 nationally in total production of pumpkins.  In our state there are 1400 commercial growers who produce about 50,000 tons of pumpkins on 6500-7000 acres annually which are valued at $25 million. According to pumpkin expert Dr. Steve Reiners, Associate Professor in Horticulture, NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, “New York grows great pumpkins and for some growers, a good pumpkin crop can make the difference in the farm’s bottom line.”

Most of the pumpkins grown in New York are labeled ornamental and will end up as Halloween decorations, although some pie pumpkins are available for consumers to purchase.  There are only 81 growers who produce pumpkins on 196 acres for processing, mainly because no canning facilities are located in our state.

The climate in our state is exceptionally good for growing pumpkins which you can find anywhere from Long Island to the north country and throughout the central and western regions.  And pumpkin “patches” range in size from 1 to 100 acres with the average being about four acres.  This year, due to the extraordinary warm, sunny weather in New York, pumpkins have been available for sale since early September which is about 10 days to two weeks earlier than normal. 

Diseases of Pumpkins
There are more than a dozen diseases that can affect pumpkins as well as other vegetables from the cucurbit family such as squash, cucumbers, and peppers.  The most common diseases are powdery and downy mildew which are spread by the wind.  However there is one disease, Phytophthora fruit rot, that can be harbored for years in soil and affect these crops for a long time.  Currently, plant breeding experts at Cornell University are working to develop pumpkins that are more disease resistant.

 How to choose a good pumpkin
If you are young, pumpkin size is all that matters, but if you want one that will last for more than a couple of weeks, Dr. Reiners suggests looking for a pumpkin with:

·         a sturdy or hard stem (experts call them “handles”).  If the handle is soft, it may indicate a diseased pumpkin.

·         no soft spots

 Photo credit: P. Treadwell

Pumpkins will continue to slowly ripen off the vine. It's okay to buy one in early October that has a little green on it because it should be totally orange by Halloween.

Giant Pumpkins
Dr. Reiners also keeps track of pumpkin statistics and reflected on the record-holding pumpkins we often read about, "Growing giant pumpkins (botanically the giants are really squash) is a serious business for some. The world record is 1,725 pounds set in Ohio last year. The biggest ever in NY was 1,631 pounds in 2007. A 2,000 pound behemoth remains the dream of pumpkin enthusiasts everywhere!"

Proper disposal of pumpkins
We’ve all had those times when there is an early snowfall or freeze and our precious pumpkins wither into an orange pile.  Those pumpkins are fine to place in the compost bin or throw into the field.  BUT, if your pumpkin is suddenly very soft, oozing, or rotting then it probably is diseased and should be placed in a plastic bag and tossed in the garbage.  By using this method of disposal, you are reducing the chance to spread diseases to other vegetables.

Now you have the latest information on the great pumpkins of New York, so trek on out to your local farm market or grower’s pick-your-own pumpkin patch and choose some pumpkins.  You’ll be supporting your local farmers and New York agriculture.  What could be better than that!

The Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University provides a wealth of vegetable disease information for commercial growers and home gardeners at  Vegetable MD Online.