Mississippi’s pumpkins have experienced something of a holiday miracle with one of their best seasons ever.
David Nagel, horticulturist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said 2013 has been the best year for pumpkins since he started working in the state about 25 years ago. Mississippi growers are producing more and larger pumpkins than their competitors in states to the north.
“From a weather perspective, Mississippi pumpkins must grow at one of the worst times of the year to produce a crop in time for Halloween,” Nagel said. “Growers plant around the Fourth of July to begin harvesting in mid-October.”
Nagel said the cool, wet spring was an even greater challenge for the northern Corn Belt states, resulting in a smaller national crop and potentially sending prices higher. In general, Mississippi fields had adequate rainfall with only a few locations experiencing a brief drought.
“For Mississippi growers, air temperatures generally did not exceed 95 degrees throughout July, August and September. That reduced water demand and allowed better vine growth, which equals more and bigger pumpkins,” he said. “The relative humidity was low, and that helped keep disease pressure down.”
Thomas Horgan, a research associate with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said growers are always looking for high-yielding varieties with the most disease resistance. He planted 15 varieties at the MSU Northeast Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Verona.
“Our goal is to help producers select future varieties that will grow well in their locations,” he said. “Most growers realize that just because a company labels a variety as disease resistant, it does not mean it will not get the disease.”
Horgan said when growing any pumpkin, a regular spray plan is essential.
“We spray every week for powdery mildew and downy mildew and lots of different fungi. We also spray regularly for insects, such as squash bugs. Treatments start as soon as the plants come up from seed,” he said.
Dwight Colson of Caledonia has been growing pumpkins for 13 years. He started with 3 acres and has expanded to 23 acres this year. The annual weather challenges motivated him to install a center-pivot irrigation system on his field in 2012.
“Access to irrigation really makes a difference, but the biggest challenge this year was getting the crop planted,” he said. “It was very wet the first part of July, and we lost some of our first crop and had to replant. I’ve found that disease resistance is minimal regardless of the variety you plant. You just have to stay on top of the diseases.”
Colson planted 82 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds. He said his pumpkin prices are running about the same as in recent years, and most shoppers will find large jack-o-lanterns for $7 to $10.
Colson and his wife, Jean, own and operate Country Pumpkins, a Lowndes County agritourism attraction. In addition to the pumpkins, the farm offers school groups and visitors a trip through a corn maze, a hay ride, a barrel train for children and other activities.