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Mississippi Pumpkins Overcome Adversity
By Amy Woolfolk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Pumpkin producers have battled the weather, bugs and disease this season but still expect to harvest a decent crop this fall.
Pumpkins grow best in dry and warm (but not hot) conditions, said Dr. David Nagel, extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University.
"Weather conditions this year were not exceptionally good or bad, so the crop that resulted is only average," Nagel said.
A typical crop produces about 1,000 basketball-size pumpkins per acre.
In addition to the weather, pumpkin producers fought insects and disease. Cucumber beetles were bad this year, Nagel said. A late season bout with downy mildew, a disease that causes plant leaves to dry up, also hurt the crop.
"Although this year's crop is not as good as last year's, it is a vast improvement over the poor crops of 1994 and 1995," Nagel said.
About 600 acres of Mississippi farmland are used to commercially grow pumpkins each year. Not typically grown in home gardens because of the land needed, commercial pumpkin farms are spread out around the state with no dominant area or county.
Most pumpkins raised in Mississippi are sold in the state, but more are needed. To meet the large demand created by Halloween, Mississippians must import a lot of pumpkins also, Nagel said. Imported pumpkins come mostly from Colorado, Texas, Indiana and Illinois.
Nagel offered these tips for picking the perfect Halloween pumpkin.
Look at the top and bottom of the pumpkin. The stem should be corky in the middle. After sitting on the ground, the bottom may be weak.
"Make sure the pumpkin is firm all over. If it is already soft, it will only get softer. Choose a pumpkin that looks healthy, not dull," Nagel said.
If you want a pumpkin for cooking purposes, look for a pumpkin that is heavy for its size. Nagel also suggested waiting until after the Halloween rush. Prices should go down slightly around Nov. 1.