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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Pumpkin problems pass over local patch

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jessica Diebold stocks a pumpkin display.
SIKESTON -- Problems plagued pumpkin growers throughout Missouri and other states this season, but somehow seemed to miss the hills of Scott County.

"We had an excellent crop, and it ran early," said David Diebold, owner of Diebold's Orchard in Benton.

Diebold did say the pumpkin supply was getting tight for the remainder of the season although he's still picking jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, giant pumpkins and pumpkins.

"We had a better-than-average pumpkin crop," Diebold said.

But Diebold may be the exception among pumpkin growers.

Lewis Jett, state vegetable and crop specialist with Lincoln University in Jefferson City, said the pumpkin crop -- and the pumpkins -- are smaller this year.

Pumpkin producers statewide experienced vine drops with their first blooms after temperatures spiked in the summer. As a result, there are fewer pumpkins available for harvest in Missouri, and the average weight of most jack-o'-lantern pumpkins is less, Jett said.

"The whole state had the high-temperature problem in late July and early August," Jett said in a news release. "Pumpkins may be later than usual across the state thanks to the excessive temperatures."

Like most vegetables, pumpkin flowers will die in hot weather. High temperatures can make the flower pollen sterile.

Jim Quinn, a horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said rainfall amounts make a difference in the flower drop. Water stress in addition to high temperatures is detrimental to pumpkins.

Tom Fowler, an extension horticulture specialist in St. Joseph, said pumpkin growers in his part of the state also are harvesting partial crops due to the weather.

"That is my experience with my little patch. I had around 250 pumpkins and should have two to three times that," Fowler said.

Fowler said black rot, a disease, wiped out most pumpkin vines for one grower in Northwest Missouri where heavy rains in August spawned fungus on the plants.

While it will be months before figures for the 2006 pumpkin crop will be available, growers can be sure it won't be anything like last year's pumpkin crop. In 2005, U.S. farmers had a bountiful pumpkin harvest, producing almost 1.09 billion pounds of pumpkins, up 6.2 percent from 2004, according to USDA. Continuing the pumpkin's reign as a popular seasonal food and decoration, sales were up in 2005 and the value of production increased to more than $105 million, $2 million more than the previous year.

Diebold said he's received phone calls from people in Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee -- where portions experienced a drought -- searching for pumpkins.

"We had good rain at the right time. ... It seems like we've gotten a lot of breaks over the last few years," Diebold said.

Although Diebold and his staff have already picked the main pumpkin crop, recent weather conditions have reduced the amount of pumpkins harvested between now and Halloween, Diebold said.

"Last week's frost kind of damaged what was in the field," Diebold said. "I'm not sure if this week's rain will affect the crop we have now. I'll know in the next couple days."

Overall, Diebold is pleased with this year's crop.

"The majority of our sales are done," Diebold said. "We still have pumpkins and will have them up to Halloween."

And once the perfect pumpkin is purchased from a retailer, it's time to turn it into a real jack-o'-lantern.

Diebold recommended using small pumpkin carving knives.

"They won't cut you, and they're a dull saw," Diebold said.

The small pumpkin carving knives are very safe for a young child to use under adult supervision and unlike knives, they are not wedge-shaped and dangerous, Diebold said.

Never carve one more than a week before Halloween, preferably two to three days before the holiday, Diebold said. This year the weekend before Halloween would be the best carving time, he said.