Pumpkins appear on front porches and pumpkin patches every October as the bright orange herald to autumn. Big or small, pumpkins have some unique qualities that range far beyond simple carving for a Halloween-night display. Each pumpkin requires very careful cultivation before it can eventually reach that pumpkin patch. In between, the pumpkin needs tender loving care before it ends up decorating a porch or filling a pie for Thanksgiving.
Pumpkins begin as seeds that cannot tolerate cool soil. Gardeners plant these tender seeds, seedlings or plants well after frost danger passes. Planting pumpkins requires considerable room to grow and thrive. Cultivators typically plant seeds in full sun at 1 inch deep, spacing the seeds at least 5 to 6 feet apart to allow plenty of room for spreading vines. Pumpkins require a good portion of the summer to reach the large size we see each Halloween. Plants usually become established in May for late September harvest.
Harvesting requires careful deliberation about the condition of the pumpkin. Cutting the pumpkin too soon could cause the vegetable to rot before it can reach the pumpkin patch or front porch. The rind (exterior skin of the pumpkin) should be hard and a uniform orange color. Just as with the seeds, the fully grown pumpkin requires tender care. Rough handling or dropping the pumpkin will bruise or crack the vegetable. Pumpkins should be clipped with pruning clippers to a 3- to 4-inch stem to create a handle.
Pumpkins obviously provide hundreds of thousands of kids a fun form of entertainment in preparation for Halloween each year. The seeds provide a healthy and nutritious snack when cleaned and roasted at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes with a light sprinkling of salt. Pumpkins contain both potassium and vitamin A and are 90 percent water. Although many individuals think of pumpkin as a vegetable, it's actually a fruit.
The largest pumpkin ever recorded weighed in at 1,140 lbs. Pumpkin can be used to make pies, breads or soups. The largest pumpkin pie ever made measured 5 feet around and more than 350 lbs. Farmers use pumpkins to feed livestock. This traditional autumn fruit is believed to have originated in Central America. Indians used pumpkins as food and medicine as well as roasting the rinds to create mats.
Pumpkins are big business in the United States, with more than 80 percent of the entire yearly supply available in October, according to the University of Illinois. The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Ohio, California and Pennsylvania with a total production of 1.1 billion lbs. produced in 2008. The majority of pumpkin production results in processing instead of use for Halloween pumpkin patches. A whopping 90 percent to 95 percent of pumpkins used in processing are grown in Illinois.