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September 21, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Hurricane Irene: All Tricks and No Treats…You Stole Our Pumpkins!

It’s been almost a month since Hurricane Irene dumped torrential rain and caused extensive flooding along the East Coast. Upstate New York and Vermont suffered the worst flooding in centuries and even a month later they’re still cleaning up.

Hurricane Irene as seen from the International Space Station on August 24, 2011. Image: NASA

With Halloween just around the corner, we can’t forget about the hundreds of pumpkin patches that were damaged by Irene across the Northeast and now they could be facing a pumpkin shortage. It’s that time of year when Halloween stores with costumes and decorations are starting to pop up all over town. There are two necessities I have to have each Halloween and one is lots of candy and the other, a pumpkin.

Last year I wrote about the pumpkin shortage in eastern Tennessee. This year, for different reasons, the pumpkin shortage is in the Northeast and some areas of the Great Lakes – and not because of unusual lack of rain (as was the case last year in Tennessee) but because of too much rain, thanks to Hurricane Irene. One pumpkin farmer in upstate New York says he watched his entire crop of 15,000+ pumpkins get swept away into Lake Champlain. Could you imagine seeing your entire crop getting wiped out in one fell swoop?

And it’s not like pumpkins grow overnight. They usually take at least three to four months to grow and the best time to plant them depends on where you live. In the northern U.S. the best time to plant is in mid to late May, whereas here in the southern U.S. the best time is early June because they tend to grow a little bit faster here. Pumpkins thrive in sunlight so it’s important they get lots of it. Also, they need to have enough room to grow. Regular watering is essential and they require 2-4 inches of water per week. However, as we’ve recently seen in the Northeast, too much water can damage or destroy the crop. While the Northeast is facing a pumpkin shortage due to the extensive flooding from Irene, the opposite is the case in Texas where most of the state is still in an excessive drought and pumpkins have received very little rainfall the past several months. If it wasn’t for farmers regularly watering their crops, we could be facing a shortage ourselves and still may.

Wholesale prices for pumpkins have doubled in some areas due to the shortage where a bin of 32 to 45 pumpkins is going for $150 to $200 in upstate New York. Pumpkins could even sell for up to $15 each in places like New York City.

Bins of pumpkins. Photo: Polters Berry Farm in Ohio

If pumpkin prices shoot up, people will probably still fork out the money for them but the problem may be finding one. It just wouldn’t be Halloween to me without one. Come to think of it, we’ve always associated Halloween with pumpkins but honestly, I didn’t always know why. Matter of fact, pumpkins weren’t the first vegetable to be carved. There was a long tradition in Britain and Ireland where they carved lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or rutabaga. The turnip has been traditionally used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrates to North America started using pumpkins because they were larger and easier to carve. In 1837 the term jack-o’-lantern was used to describe the carved pumpkin and the first time a pumpkin was associated with Halloween was recorded in 1866.

Photo: Wikipedia

I’m still a kid at heart and enjoy carving a pumpkin each Halloween. I also like baking and making various desserts. Here are a few pumpkin recipes I recommend.

No-Bake Pumpkin Butter Pie

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Maple Pecan Glaze

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Pumpkin Mini Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cheesecake

If you like to carve pumpkins like I do, but hate that they rot so quickly, you might want to try a preservation bath which kills bacteria, mold spores and infuses your gourd-like squash (which is what a pumpkin is) with moisture. This will help preserve the pumpkin for about 10 days. Here’s what you do.

  1. First, fill the sink with a mixture of water and bleach. Use two teaspoons of bleach for every gallon of water.
  2. Place your freshly carved pumpkin in the sink with the bleach/water solution and let it set for eight hours.
  3. After it sits for eight hours, remove the pumpkin using rubber gloves and place it on newspaper to air dry.

Other things you can do to preserve the life of your pumpkin are to keep it out of direct sunlight and out of rain. You can also try placing your pumpkin in the refrigerator overnight. If I saw mold growing on my pumpkin, I definitely wouldn’t put it in my refrigerator though. You can always try repeating the bleach/water bath if you notice mold growing and let it sit overnight. Also, you can buy what’s called Pumpkin Fresh. It’s a spray that fights mold, rot and decay. It will help keep your carved pumpkin fresher for a longer period of time.

Pumpkin Fresh. Photo: www.pumpkinfresh.com

Of course, pumpkins keep a lot longer if you don’t carve them. I hate to admit this but last year I didn’t carve mine and I kept it until Thanksgiving.

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