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October 13, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Weather Extremes Cause Pumpkin Shortage

Halloween is approaching fast and it’s time to buy your pumpkins if you haven’t already! I just bought mine, but I’ll wait another week or so to carve it. With all the Halloween commercials on TV and the pumpkins in the supermarket, it has prompted my curiosity on pumpkin growth and how weather affects it.

Photo: The Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins are warm-season crops and can be grown throughout most of the U.S. Since they are very tender, it’s important to plant the seeds after the soil has warmed in the spring and all danger of frost has passed. The seeds will not germinate in cold soil and frost will injure the seeds. Growth nearly stops when air temperatures drop below 50ºF and the plants can be severely injured if temperatures drop below 40ºF for several days. An hour or more of frost (temperatures below 32ºF) will frequently kill the plant.

Valley Center pumpkin patch. Photo: http://www.welcometonorthcountry.com

Once the temperatures start warming up in the spring, pumpkin seeds will begin to germinate at 60ºF. The best temperatures for pumpkin growth are between 75-85ºF during the day with lows between 60-70ºF at night. Since pumpkins are deeply rooted to about 4-6 feet, they can tolerate short periods of dry weather. However, once you start getting into prolonged periods of dry weather (i.e. a drought) this can affect the crops’ size and development. On the other hand, too much rainfall can increase foliar diseases.

In eastern Tennessee, the lack of rainfall during June and July with highs well into the 90’s has left smaller and fewer pumpkins this year. According to one farmer, his crop yield is about 50% less per acre this year than a typical year. The Midwest has also taken a hit. In Quincy, Illinois a lot of pumpkin plants didn’t set blossoms because of the wet and hot summer they had. With the extreme heat over the southern and eastern U.S. this summer, I can see why pumpkins have suffered.

Pumpkins sure didn’t seem to suffer in Stillwater, Minnesota this year as a new world record (see below) was set this past Saturday. It weighed in at 1,810.5 pounds. This pumpkin beat out last year’s official world-record pumpkin in Ohio by 85 lbs. Now that makes one gigantic Jack-O-Lantern!

World’s largest pumpkin in Stillwater, Minnesota. Photo: Fox News Network

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