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As weather cools, pumpkins are hot

October 09, 2005|By LORI YOUNG

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

As I drive around Washington County, I see pumpkins everywhere. They are used to decorate for autumn and to make into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween.

Also, pumpkin pies bring images of Thanksgiving.

How do you pick a good pumpkin and store it for long-lasting results?

Botanically speaking, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable. To have pumpkins for fall harvest, they should have been planted in late May or early June, after the soil warmed up.

One question I am asked frequently is, "Why do some pumpkin flowers not produce pumpkins?"

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family. This family has separate male and female flowers. The female flowers can be distinguished from the male flowers by the ovary or small pumpkin at the base of the flower. After pollination occurs, this ovary becomes a growing pumpkin.

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So, how do you pick a good pumpkin? Look for a pumpkin with a deep orange color, a hard rind and a long stem (about 4 inches). Why? A pumpkin's color stops developing once it is harvested.

There are ways to stimulate color change, but it is too much trouble for one jack-o'-lantern. A hard rind and the stem left on the pumpkin help prevent moisture loss and keep disease out - helping the pumpkin keep fresh longer. Don't carry the pumpkin by the stem because the pumpkin is heavy and the stem may break off, causing moisture loss and an area for decay to set in.

Be sure to select the correct pumpkin for its use. A small, sweet pumpkin will make a better pie and a large, hollow pumpkin will make a great jack-o'-lantern. Once the pumpkin is cut from the vine, it should cure for 10 days in the sun. If there is a chance of frost, cover the pumpkin with a tarpaulin or straw to prevent injury.

Pumpkins are best stored at 50 to 60 degrees with 50 percent to 73 percent humidity. To prevent the skin from bruising, pumpkins should not touch each other. Any injury to the pumpkin, either by frost, bruising or scratching will cause decay and rot of the pumpkin. The best way to keep your pumpkin fresh for the whole season is to prevent decay from setting in.

While researching pumpkins, I came across some interesting facts I'd like to share:

· Pumpkins contain potassium and vitamin A.

· Pumpkin flowers are edible.

· Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

· Pumpkins once were used as a cure for freckles.

· American Indians flattened pumpkin strips, dried them and made mats.

· European colonists in America sliced off the top of the pumpkin, filled the inside with milk, honey and spices, and baked it in hot ashes.




Lori Young is an Extension educator, specializing in horticulture for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She is based in Washington County. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, ext. 14, or by e-mail at lyoung2@umd.edu.

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