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Pumpkin shapes, colors jazz up fall decorations
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Just in time for Halloween and Election Day, fall decorations are available in red, white and warty.
David Nagel, horticulturist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said shoppers for fall arrangements are finding much more than the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Designer breeders are giving growers selections of pumpkins that come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, textures and sizes. Other new varieties offer disease resistance, which is especially important in Mississippi’s humidity.
“The best weather for growing pumpkins in Mississippi is April until July, but no one wants pumpkins in July,” he said. “So instead, we plant in early July to harvest in the middle of October. That opens us up to more disease pressure. Our cost of production is always high because pumpkins need more irrigation and protection from diseases than most other crops.”
An additional challenge is the fact that pumpkins have a very narrow market window, with the bulk of the crop selling right before Halloween.
“Mississippi’s pumpkin acreage has not changed much in recent years, and it is mostly scattered across the state in small operations,” Nagel said. “This year, most pumpkins were doing well until Hurricane Isaac arrived and caused diseases to increase in some fields, especially in south Mississippi.”
Nationally, prices are up slightly because of the drought in the Midwest, he added. However, in Mississippi, prices are similar to those seen in recent years. Most of the state’s growers are targeting agritourism rather than the wholesale markets.
Dwight Colson of Country Pumpkins in Caledonia has been growing pumpkins for 12 years and continues to expand the tourism side of his operation.
“This year, we added a 4-acre corn maze, including a miniature maze for younger visitors. We also have rides and other activities,” he said. “We sell our pumpkins here on the farm.”
Colson said he grows 72 varieties, including pumpkins, gourds and winter squash. This year, he added center pivot irrigation and was able to produce larger pumpkins, including a 95-pound white pumpkin.
“People still want orange pumpkins, but the reason we grow so many different types is because people want different shapes, sizes and colors,” he said.
Lowndes County Extension agent Reid Nevins, much like other farmers in the state, grows pumpkins as a hobby on a couple of acres. His crop is not irrigated.
“I have grown as many as 20 varieties on 5-8 acres, but this year, my wife and I just planted a handful of varieties on 2 acres,” Nevins said. “We planted White Lumina, Baby Boo and Pump Ke Mon. We also planted some of the traditional orange pumpkins in the best performing varieties.”
Nevins said locally grown pumpkins sell well in Mississippi but not without a lot of effort.
“Growers have to spray fungicide and insecticide every week during the growing season,” he said.
To find locally grown pumpkins, contact the county Extension Office.