When some people think of autumn, they think of all kinds of food and drink items flavored with pumpkin spice.
Twinkies, coffee, cold brewed coffee, tea, beer, hard cider, cookies, ice creams, candies, doughnuts, English muffins, granola, and I could go on and on.
When I think of fall, I think of fall decorations, where roadside stands and pumpkins are front and center. Bright orange pumpkins paired with mums, gourds, squash, cornstalks, giant spiders, and scary monsters all contribute to the bright displays that adorn tables, flower arrangements, porches, decks, mailboxes and even inside the home.
Pumpkins have been around for centuries.
The Greek word for pumpkin is “pepon”, which means “large melon.”
Did you know that Jack O’Lanterns, which had a long history in Scotland and Ireland, started out as turnips and potatoes in the old country? Early Americans utilized what we now know as pumpkins — orange — to make food and doorway lamps because they carve easily and are larger than turnips or potatoes.
As far as food goes, the best ways to use pumpkin fruit are in pies, soups, cookies, pumpkin butter and breads.
Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene from their bright orange color — Vitamin A — are low in calories and are also high in potassium. Their seeds can be washed, dried, salted and roasted to make a delicious snack.
Cucurbits are a category of fruit that includes squash, melons, gourds and pumpkins.
Pumpkins are in the Curcurbitaceae family and are mostly orange when ripened. In recent years, you may have seen more variety in their colors.
Pumpkins are an annual plant that thrive in warm weather and grow in full sun. They need soil in the pH range of 6.0 to 6.8 and a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so plant in late May to early June.
The soil should be rich in organic matter and you can augment the soil with slow-release fertilizer. Frost will kill the vines, so don’t plant too early. The vines are also sometimes prickly.
Plant pumpkin seeds 1 inch below the surface of the soil in mounds 5 feet apart. Pumpkin vines spread readily so space according to the directions on the seed package.
The seeds will germinate in seven to 10 days. After germination, make sure to thin the seedlings into a single plant per hill.
Weeds are a problem during the life of a pumpkin, so be sure to weed the pumpkin patch throughout its life cycle. You can use mulch, straw, or black plastic to ease the burden of weeding.
If you want to promote more pumpkins, you can use a concept called branching by pinching the tips out of the main vines when they reach about 2 feet long. If you plant at the right temperature, you will have yellow flowers in two to three weeks.
These will be male flowers and they will be quickly followed by the female flowers in a few weeks’ time.
Bees are the pollinators for pumpkins, so don’t use pesticides that could affect bee populations. Most pumpkins require 100 days to grow but larger pumpkins take more time.
You may want to place cardboard and newspaper under the pumpkin to avoid rotting. When it is dry in the summer, use irrigation or soaker hoses to water.
If you don’t have those items, water with a hose in the morning.
To harvest pumpkins, wait 100 days until they are a deep orange color or have a hard skin. Harvest before a hard frost.
Cut off the vine with pruning shears and wash them off with a mild bleach solution.
Store your pumpkins in a cool, dry place. They are good for two to three months when stored at 50 to 55 degrees.
As far as pests go, many pumpkins have seeds that are produced by reputable seed companies and have an intermediate resistance to powdery mildew and downy mildew. Aphids, striped cucumber beetles and squash beetles could be problems too.
It is a good habit to walk around your pumpkin patch each day to identify and control pests.
Pumpkins come in many sizes, colors, ribbed, warty and giant varieties.
n “Silver Moon” pumpkins are a hybrid weighing 5 to 6 pounds with a blue-white rind. They have silver color on the outside with a rich, dark orange flesh. They have a flattened shape with wide ribs.
n “Jarrahdale” pumpkins weigh about 12 to 18 pounds with heavy, rounded ribs and slate-gray skin. They have orange flesh that can be eaten, but also looks nice on any pumpkin display.
n “Warty Gnome” pumpkins have orange and yellow stripes and a long, dark green handle. These round pumpkins weigh 4 to 6 pounds, measuring 4 inches high by 7 inches in diameter.
They make a lovely statement in any fall display.
n The ornamental pumpkin “Batwing” has a unique look being bicolored orange and dark green when harvested early, to full orange at maturity. It weighs 0.5 to 1 pound.
n “Atlantic Giant’ pumpkins have been grown for 30 years. They are good for large outdoor displays and giant pumpkin contests as they exceed 100 pounds.
Pumpkins are wonderful fall decorations that make you smile with their variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They can be used indoors and outdoors to do a scene along with mums, gourds and other Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations.
They can also be used in foods, such as pumpkin flavored coffee, pumpkin flavored cookies, and of course pumpkin pie. Let your creativity be your guide when decorating with them. The sky is the limit.
Hours and programming
Have a gardening question?
Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Stop in at the CCE office at 420 E. Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the first Tuesday of the month, join the Genesee County Master Gardeners for our lunch time Garden Talks from noon to 12:45 p.m.
On the first Thursday of each month, join the Genesee County Master Gardeners from noon to 12;45 p.m. for our lunchtime Garden Talks. The program on Nov. 4 will be “A Harvest of Squash.”
If you would like to know what to do with the squash that found its way into your home, join us. We will explain the different types of squash, how to prepare them for use, store for later, as well as share a few recipes for that bountiful harvest.
Register at our CCE website events page http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/ to get your Zoom link. Programs are recorded and posted to the CCE Genesee YouTube page.