About 80 percent of the United States’ pumpkin supply is available in October, but pumpkin makes an appearance year-round in pies, breads and other foods. Weather can have a big impact on the yearly pumpkin harvest.
- Wet and soggy: Too much rain can cause crops to rot. Mildews, which thrive in wet conditions, can damage leaves and stems or kill pumpkin vines and fruits. During spring of this year, heavy rain delayed pumpkin planting the northeast, which in turn delays harvest time. Then, Hurricane Irene flooded pumpkin fields throughout the northeastern United States in September. (Photo at right: Powdery mildew makes leaves on pumpkin vines brittle and dry)
- Hot and dry: Dry, hot weather can cause pumpkins to produce too many male blossoms and too few female blossoms, resulting in a smaller harvest. Lack of water during droughts can also result in smaller and lighter-weight pumpkins. Pumpkin harvest in Texas dropped 40 percent or more due to drought conditions in the state this year.
- Chilly: An early freeze can kill pumpkins. And, chilly weather in the spring can prevent pumpkin blossoms from germinating. Why? Because bees – which carry pollen from plant to plant – don’t fly until the temperature is at least 55 degrees. Without bees and pollination, there are no pumpkins.
Viewer Tip: Despite a rough year for pumpkin patches, many farmers are meeting demand by bringing in pumpkins from other areas. If you are carving or cooking this year, put the whole pumpkin to use! If you don’t eat the seeds yourself, spread them outside as a snack for birds and squirrels. And, instead of weighing down your trash bags and sending past-their-prime pumpkins to the landfill, put them to use in your garden. Pumpkins can be added to compost piles, where they will decompose and add nutrients to your compost.
(Sources: University of Illinois Extension. “Pumpkins and More: Pumpkin Facts.” http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/facts.html; The National Center for Appropriate Technology. “Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Production.” www.attra.ncat.org; USA Today. “Northeast Farmers Warn of Irene Pumpkin Shortage.” http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/story/2011-09-19/northeast-pumpkin-shortage-hurricane-irene-floods/50466270/1; Houston Chronicle, “Drought takes bite out of Texas pumpkin harvest,” http://www.chron.com/business/article/Drought-takes-bite-out-of-Texas-pumpkins-2186331.php; Portland Tribune, “Pining for the Pumpkin Patch,” http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=131863808601002000)
Photo courtesy of Maine.gov.