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The (not so spooky) tale of Halloween pumpkins

On a day with no shortage of haunting pumpkins around the corner, many people may be wondering just how the largest, most terrifying of these autumn staples come to be. The answer is not nearly as spooky as the end product. A bit of late night investigation will reveal there is a fair amount of agricultural expertise behind those giant Halloween pumpkins.

Even first-time growers are capable of growing pumpkins in excess of 400 pounds if the seeds are the Atlantic Giant variety, which are available at numerous garden centers and catalogs, according to Mike Estadt, educator, Ohio State University Extension.

“To grow pumpkins in excess of half a ton, it all begins with superior genetics,” Estadt wrote in Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden, a new Ohioline fact sheet.

Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Generally speaking, some of the other things to consider when growing pumpkins, Estadt said, include the following.

  • Site selection and planting: Each pumpkin plant should be allowed 1,000 square feet of growing space in an area that has several hours of daily sunlight and access to water, considering that pumpkins require large amounts of water.
  • Fertilizer and lime: When planting, you’ll need to have the soil tested to determine whether lime and fertilizers are needed based on your soil requirements.
  • Planting and space requirements: The pumpkin seeds should be planted individually in 12-inch peat pots indoors in April and can be transferred to the ground when the first true leaf is fully expanded, typically 10–14 days after seeding. Once planted outside, they can be protected from frost using row covers, or a small greenhouse.
  • Irrigation: Pumpkins have shallow roots, so they will need to be watered slowly with at least 1 inch of water per week if the area doesn’t experience an adequate amount of rainfall.
  • Insects and diseases: An insect and disease control program should be initiated when you transplant the pumpkin plants from the pots to the ground. This is because once a bacterial or viral infection has occurred, there is no way to stop it. And several pests are attracted to pumpkins, including striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vie borer.
  • Pollination: While hand pollination is the preferred method to fruit-setting, natural pollination by honey bees, squash bees, and bumble bees will also work well.
  • Shade: Once the pumpkins get to a certain size, they need to be protected from direct sunlight. For example, you can use a bedsheet draped over the pumpkin, leaving the stem exposed.

Ohio is one of the top producers of the large, carving type of pumpkins, usually ranking between third or fourth among states for pumpkin production, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, with more that 66 million pounds of pumpkin produced statewide last year.

And, from a nutritional standpoint, pumpkins are an excellent, healthy food because they are low in calories, are full of potassium and antioxidants, and the seeds make excellently nutritious and tasty snacks.

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