Growers learn ways to profit from pumpkin patches

Karol Osborne, Benedict, Linda F.  |  10/26/2016 4:35:49 PM

(10/26/16) ST. JOSEPH, La. – Vegetable growers looking to grow pumpkins for fun or profit learned strategies to select varieties and increase yields at a recent workshop at the LSU AgCenter Northeast Research Station.

Taking an agritourism approach is one way to enhance profits on the farm, Kiki Fontenot, LSU AgCenter specialist, said at the Oct. 18 event. Farmers can earn more per pumpkin by operating a corn-type maze and pumpkin patch to attract families and school groups, she said.

Louisiana’s harsh climate with heat, humidity and insects produces challenges for pumpkin growers, Fontenot said. She recommended three varieties from the first-year trials for pumpkin growers in the northern part of the state.

“If you’re looking for a small pumpkin, in that 3- to 4-pound range, with a round shape, and a cheerful color yellow, then Sunlight is the best,” she said.

With more harvest yet to come, Fontenot said Sunlight has been the top-yielding pumpkin variety at the station with an estimated yield of about 3,800 pumpkins per acre.

Cougar, a typical jack-o-lantern-type pumpkin with a bright orange color averaging about 11 pounds, is the second pick at a yield of about 2,500 per acre, she said.

Darling, a narrow, taller and darker orange variety at around 8 pounds, would be good for people who want to carve, but also for people who want to decorate their front porch because it has a different shape to it, she said.

“The data we presented today is good up until now,” said Fontenot. “We will take some of the better varieties that yielded, replicate them again next year, and look at two years of comparison data.”

This year the trials experienced no significant weather or disease problems, but results from at least two growing seasons is needed to ensure the same results, she said.

“This is my first shot at trying that, and it seemed like I was going to fail. So, I had to come to this class to know next time what to do and how to do it,” said Willie Yearby, a home vegetable gardener from Vidalia.

Dennis Burns, AgCenter county agent in Tensas Parish, discussed major issues in using honeybees for crop pollination, including the need for a close source of water to optimize hive efficiency.

“The closer the water source, the less they have to fly, and the more efficient they are,” he said.

Burns said any pesticide application should be coordinated to produce minimum impact on the bee population. For example, bees are most active from early morning until around mid-afternoon, so pesticides should be applied late in the day so the residual will be dry when bees return the next day.

Fontenot encouraged growers to get a pesticide applicator license to increase the chemical options available to keep a clean crop. While worms are to be expected with pumpkins, the insect causing most concern is the cucumber beetle.

Fontenot also recommended using drip irrigation for pumpkins because they are too sensitive for overhead sprinklers.

Kylie Miller, AgCenter agent in Concordia Parish, demonstrated how pumpkins are rated for weight, shape and size for data collection.

“Another thing we look for is the suture, which is the indentation on the pumpkin’s outer surface,” she said. Pumpkins with deep sutures are suitable for decorative arrangements and are available in a variety of different colors and textures, while smooth surfaced pumpkins are better for painting.

Danny Coombs, a retired LSU AgCenter animal scientist and now president of the Louisiana Vegetable Growers Association, was one of the participants at the workshop.

“I’ve always been interested in growing fruits and vegetables. It’s something new for me and I’m just enjoying it,” he said.

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Kylie Miller, right, LSU AgCenter agent in Concordia Parish, and Kiki Fontenot, second from left, LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist, gave instructions at a workshop on Oct. 18 at the Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, Louisiana, on how to be successful at growing a pumpkin patch for fun and profit. Photo by Karol Osborne

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Kiki Fontenot, LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist, says there are three varieties that so far in her research look like varieties that can be grown successfully in Louisiana. The Sunlight is a small yellow pumpkin; the Cougar is a bigger orange pumpkin; and the Darling is a taller orange pumpkin. Photo by Karol Osborne

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Kiki Fontenot, at right, LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist, took participants at the pumpkin workshop on Oct. 18 at the Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, Louisiana, into a field to discuss production practices. Photo by Karol Osborne

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Pumpkins with deep sutures are suitable for decorative arrangements and are available in a variety of different colors and textures, while smooth surfaced pumpkins are better for painting, according to Kiki Fontenot, LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist. She taught a workshop on growing pumpkins on Oct. 18 at the LSU AgCenter Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph. Photo by Karol Osborne

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