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MASTER GARDENER: Pumpkins are this year's vegetable of the year

One Vegetable, One Community, a group sponsored in part by the University of Minnesota Extension, focuses on uniting communities by encouraging gardeners of all ages and levels to plant, grow, cook and share a featured vegetable of the year. This year, the vegetable is the pumpkin.

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One Vegetable, One Community, a group sponsored in part by the University of Minnesota Extension, focuses on uniting communities by encouraging gardeners of all ages and levels to plant, grow, cook and share a featured vegetable of the year. This year, the vegetable is the pumpkin.

The plant genus Cucurbita is more commonly known to us as gourds. This group includes squash, pumpkins, zucchini and more. Cucurbita are native to the Americas and grown from Southern Canada to Argentina. There is evidence that Cucurbita were being grown over 8,000 years ago. Today, over 1.5 billion pumpkins are produced annually in the United States.

The thing we call a pumpkin is, in fact, a type of squash, but it can also be considered a gourd. Are you confused yet? A squash is generally used for its fruit while gourds are used for decorative pieces. Pumpkins are used as both. Another identifier is that squash stems are light and hollow while pumpkin stems are hard and jagged.

Today we want to focus on pumpkins. Did you know that there are over 150 separate species of pumpkin plants and many hundreds of varieties of each?

There is every shape, size and color you can imagine. There are round, gooseneck and flat pumpkins. There are orange, red, blue, white and multi-colored pumpkins. There are small mostly ornamental pumpkins that weigh less than a pound and there are large jumbos that weigh 100 pounds or more. The record-holding pumpkin grown weighed over 2,300 pounds.

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Pumpkins are a type of “winter squash” meaning they are harvested in the fall and are able to be stored and used during the winter. Winter squash is generally cooked before eaten and the skin, or rind, is not eaten.

Pumpkin fruit can be boiled, steamed or roasted. You can serve them mashed or pureed for use in soups, breads, or my favorite — pie. The seeds can be dried by roasting and then eaten as well.

The four most common pumpkins are pepo, moschata, maxima and mixta. Pepo are orange to green, small to medium in size, and used mainly for cooking. Moschata are tan to yellow, medium-sized, and are mostly used for pies and carving.

Maxima are usually orange but can be blue or green; they are small to large in size and mainly used for carving and show. Mixta are orange, blue, red or mixed color and used for decorating. Like the name implies, maxima are the big guys. They are grown mainly for show and range in size from about 100 to 2000 pounds.

Orange is the most common color when we think of pumpkins. Orange pumpkins are found in all four kinds and vary in size and shape. The most popular pumpkin used for jack-o'-lanterns is the Connecticut Field. While it’s a great pumpkin for carving, it’s not so good for eating because it is generally watery, stringy and not so sweet.

Pumpkins can be planted in mounds, rows or on trellises. (Trellises are suitable only for the smaller decorative varieties. Check the seed package to be sure you are getting the kind of pumpkin you want to grow.) Pumpkins need a lot of water, good compost, rich soil, and plenty of sun, too.

It’s important to keep in mind where you plant as the vines grow aggressively. Plant them on the edge of the garden because then you are able to direct the vines by “branching.” This technique is used to grow sturdier vines but less fruit. It is done by pinching the tips of the main vine and removing the female flowers for the first three weeks.

Yes, there are both male and female flowers on every plant. Only female flowers will produce fruit. By looking at the first flowers that develop on your pumpkin vines, which are male blossoms, you’ll be able to compare their look to the female blooms that develop later.

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Female blooms have a slight swelling on the stem just below the flower. If the flower is fertilized, this slight swelling continues to enlarge as it develops into a pumpkin.

Watch for pumpkin seed packets, available through OVOC free of charge, at public locations across the county. Join the fun of growing pumpkins the veggie of the year in home gardens, containers and community gardens everywhere in Beltrami County.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916, and leave your name, number and question.

Related Topics: GARDENING
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