Pumpkins!

Halloween Pumpkins

October is a great month. From harvest to football and cooler weather to…Pumpkins!

Pumpkins are great for eating and for decorating homes for Halloween and Thanksgiving. People seem to go crazy for all of the different edible pumpkin ideas. I even use products to make my house smell like pumpkins. The pumpkin industry is huge in the United States. In 2015, every person in the United States consumed an average of 3.1 pounds of pumpkin. This was even lower than the typical average of 5 pounds per year, but in 2015 we had a pumpkin shortage due to poor weather events, making it more difficult to find pumpkin food products in stores.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of plants. They are in the same family as cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, zucchini, and, their cousin for decorations, the gourd. They can be grown throughout the majority of the United States. For mass production, the majority of our pumpkin comes from Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Illinois grows around 90-95% of the processed pumpkins for the Libby corporation located in their own state. Libby is the company that makes the majority of the canned pumpkin products found in stores.

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Pumpkins are easily grown, but need a lot of space to grow well. They need full sunlight and a lot of water because pumpkins are 90% water. Vining pumpkins need 50-100 square feet of space per hill. Allow 5-6 feet between hills. It is hard to keep the correct spacing when planting little seeds, but the plants will fill in fast. If they are planted too closely together, they can get diseases from the humidity during the summer months amongst all of the large leaves. Pumpkins can be planted when tomatoes can, as long as it is after the last frost of the spring. However, if planted too early, you will have pumpkins for Halloween in August, so it is best to wait until mid-June to plant your pumpkins. You know when your pumpkins are ready to harvest when they have turned color and resist a fingernail when it is gently pushed against the rind of the pumpkin.

Saving seeds from pumpkins can be done easily when carving, however the next year your pumpkins may look different. Plants can cross pollinate with other plants within the same species. Pumpkins, zucchini, gourds, and some types of winter squash all share the same plant species, Cucurbita pepo. These plants could then cross-pollinate among each other and cause a unique type of pumpkin to grow. However, the cross-pollination will only change the plants that are grown from saving seeds. So, if you save seed or throw old pumpkins into a garden patch and don’t disrupt them too much next spring, you will get plants to grow, but the pumpkins you grow will not look the same as what you had this year. Cross-pollination does not affect the current seasons produce.

There are a lot of different pumpkin varieties to choose from, each having their own niche in the pumpkin market. The most common one this time of year is the Jack-o-Lantern type pumpkin which is medium sized and good for carving. It is best to not use the Jack-o-Lantern type for cooking, they don’t have the best flavor and texture. For cooking and baking use the pie pumpkin, a smaller type with creamier flesh and better flavor, which are not ideal for carving. There are many other choices including Fairytale pumpkins which are squattier, heavier, and light orange colored. Mini pumpkins are fun for easy decorating indoors and out and can be found in many colors including traditional orange and white. Giant pumpkins are grown for competitions and festivals and are specially grown. A regular Jack-o-Lantern type can get large, but for the extraordinarily large, choose seed for giant pumpkins. There are pink pumpkins, striped pumpkins, blue pumpkins, warty pumpkins, and even gourds that like to help accent your Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. This information came from John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator at Nebraska Extension.

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Dandelion Control Should be Done Now

2014-04-26 10.02.21

Photo by Nic Colgrove

Weeds in the lawn will drive us crazy through the whole summer, but don’t forget about them yet. Fall is the best time to treat for broadleaf weeds, even though we don’t notice them as much now because they are done blooming for the year.

Perennial broadleaf weeds including dandelions, creeping Charlie or ground ivy, and clover are best controlled in the fall once the weeds have begun their preparations for winter. In the fall months, these perennial weeds will move sugars that they use for energy from the above ground portions of the plant down into the roots to store them for next spring. If they are sprayed during this phase of their lifecycle, they are more likely to take that herbicide down into the roots and kill the plants rather than just burn the tops off.

The cooler temperatures in the fall are better for turf and ornamental plants due to a reduction in volatilization. In the warm summer days, the herbicides we typically use on broadleaf weeds can turn into a gas and move to non-target plants, causing damage and in some cases even death. With the cooler temperatures, this is not a big concern because the common chemicals we use, such as 2,4-D and Dicamba, do not volatilize at temperatures below 80 degrees. Wind drift is still a concern, so always be sure to apply herbicides on days with little to no wind.

The fall is not the time to worry about or treat for summer annual weeds such as crabgrass. Those plants that are still alive will die with the first frost and the seed will not germinate until next spring when the weather warms back up again. However, you can treat now for winter annual weeds such as henbit, speedwell, and little barley. Once they have germinated this fall you can use a 2,4-D product, which can be achieved with a late October and into early November application for dandelions.

Remember, all of these chemical controls are pesticides and therefore need to be carefully considered and applied according to the label. Any material used to maintain a landscape, including fertilizer, sand, or pesticides, can end up in the storm sewer and lead to pollution of lakes, rivers, and streams. In the same manner, even our grass clippings and leaves can pollute our water supply. There are ways to manage our landscapes while reducing water pollution. The following will help when managing our lawns this fall:

  1. Any fertilizers, pesticides, and grass clippings should be swept back onto the landscape. Using a leaf blower will work as well. The idea is to keep these items on the greenscape rather than on the hardscape that leads easily to the storm sewer. Raking up leaves in the fall will also help reduce the amount of leaf debris that ends up in the water.
  2. Check your sprayers before using to ensure they are properly calibrated and the nozzles are not clogged.
  3. Compacted soils and thin turf do not allow fertilizers and pesticides to infiltrate the soil surface. Aerate and add organic matter to improve the composition of the soil to ensure these products do not run off of hard, compacted soils. Reseed bare areas of the lawn to catch lawn products.
  4. Thatch layers in the lawn can become a natural barrier to prevent infiltration. Aerate the lawn to reduce the thatch layer to allow lawn products to infiltrate their intended areas.

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