Pumpkins, Spiders, and Mums

Halloween Pumpkins

Now that October is here, we begin to get prepared for Halloween, a day which I personally enjoy. Pumpkins, spiders, and fall flowers are all part of this festival. So, I won’t miss the chance to help you with your holiday decorations and traditions.

Pumpkins

2017-10-28 19.10.50Pumpkins can be used for so many things including carving, decoration, pies, and many other food products. If planted later in the summer growing season, your pumpkins should just be maturing, or have matured within the last couple of weeks. If you are unsure, pumpkins are mature when the rind is hard and can resist penetration from a fingernail.

Pumpkins do need to be harvested prior to a hard frost. They can be ok out on the vine for a light frost, but a hard frost will damage the pumpkin and can damage storage potential and more likely cause the pumpkins to rot. They should be cut off the vine. Do not cut the vine too close to the pumpkin, this can also cause the pumpkin to decay sooner.

If you didn’t grow the pumpkin yourself, check over the pumpkins you are purchasing. Look for good rind with no puncture wounds. Ensure that the pumpkin has a bit of stem attached to the top and choose the correct pumpkin for the use you have in mind for it. Pie pumpkins are best for baking while jack-o-lantern types will be better for carving and for decorations.

Spiders

Wolf Spider, UNL ENTO
Wolf Spider photo by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology

Spiders always come to mind at Halloween as a decoration and because they become a problem inside our homes with the cool fall weather. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. These are one of the largest species of spiders that we will find in Nebraska. They are quite hairy and often times will have 2 white or lighter brown colored stripes down the back of the spider. There are some wolf spiders that can be the size of a half dollar or more, legs and all. These spiders are not poisonous, but they can bite. Most often, a wolf spider will not bite us, but if they do the reaction is usually similar to a large mosquito bite.

Spiders are actually beneficial, but not often desired. They feed on other insects and pests that can move into our homes. The best way to control a spider population indoors is through habitat modification, meaning to seal up all cracks and crevices in your home foundation and around windows and doors to ensure that the spiders don’t move into your home. You can also use the indoor/outdoor barrier sprays to spray around the foundation of your home and around the windows and doors to reduce spider populations inside your home. Also, sticky traps are a great way to manage spider populations indoors. 

Mums

orange mum, pixabay

Mums are not the scary holiday tradition that spiders and pumpkins are, but they are a common decoration for the fall, including Halloween. Garden mums grow up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide and grow into a clump. The flowers are 2-3 inches across and can be found in many colors including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, coral, and deep burgundy red depending on the variety. Mums need to be pinched back in the early summer to help keep the plants to a compact and uniform size and shape and to help flowering. Pinching should be done 2-3 times in June. It should begin when the plants are 5-6 inches high and it should be discontinued around the 4th of July.

Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

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.

gourds-for-thankful-blog

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.

Pumpkins

Gourds

The trees are beginning to turn beautiful fall colors, the leaves are beginning to fall, and scary movies are starting to come back into the theatres. This must mean Halloween is on its way.

The best part of Halloween, to me, is the pumpkins. I love the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin and the look of the carved pumpkins on my front steps lit up for Halloween night. Pumpkins can be used for a variety of things throughout October and November and they can be grown in your garden right in your own backyard.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of garden plants, which includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini. We can use them for eating, roasting the seeds, and carving for a Halloween decoration. We can also store them and use them for Thanksgiving decorations.

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license
Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

If you grow pumpkins in your garden, it is now time to begin harvesting them, if you haven’t already started. Pumpkins can be harvested when they are mature in color and when they have a firm rind, when your fingernail does not puncture the rind when lightly pushed into it. It is best to remove all pumpkins prior to or within 1-2 days after a killing frost. Cut pumpkins off of the rind leaving 3-4 inches of stem on the pumpkin to help them resist organisms that lead to decay.

After the pumpkins are harvested, they should be cured to last longer in storage. Leave pumpkins in an area where they receive 80-85 degree temperatures with 80-90 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Pumpkins will store if not cured, but they will store longer, up to 3 months, if they are cured first. After cured, they are best stored in areas of 50-55 degree temperatures.

It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. However, you do not want to carve a pumpkin and use it for Halloween and then use it for making a pumpkin pie. A carved pumpkin is a perishable item, therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking if it has been left out, after being carved into, for more than 2 hours.

2014-10-30 19.13.41

Many people are concerned about the length of time a carved pumpkin will last on their front porch. The problem is that there isn’t a good treatment to get them to hold that carving for very long. The best idea is to wait until no more than one week before Halloween until you carve your pumpkin. It is best for the carving if you can do it as close to Halloween as possible. Another thing that will help with longevity of a pumpkin for Halloween is to ensure that you purchase or pick a pumpkin in good condition. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots, signs of decay, short stems, and other signs to show that decay has already begun in the pumpkin. If decay is already present in the pumpkin before you carve into it, it will ruin your carving that much sooner. If the weather is warm outside, store the pumpkins in a cool area until Halloween to keep the carving intact. Hopefully all of these tips can help you grow a great pumpkin and have a great pumpkin for Halloween. Happy Halloween!