Kathryn K. Fontenot and Beth B. Putnam
In 2020, while summer activities across the state were slowly canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, LSU AgCenter employees were determined to keep youths engaged in agricultural endeavors. They developed a pumpkin growing contest with the goal of providing children with an activity they could do at home that would teach them about farming. Many young people were stuck at home, so the extra time could easily be spent in the garden.
Participants were recruited by 4-H agents throughout the state. Approximately 600 4-H members from 46 parishes participated in 2020, and 236 4-H members in 30 parishes participated in 2021. Each registered child received packets of Cinderella and Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds and a planting guide.
Growing pumpkins is no easy task in Louisiana. Participants battled cucumber beetles, worms, squash vine borers, fungi, wildlife, livestock, humidity, rain, weeds and two hurricanes in 2020 and very similar conditions in 2021. They competed in five categories: heaviest pumpkin, smallest (pollinated) pumpkin, most uniform pumpkin, most unique pumpkin, and best kept records. In mid-October of both years, 4-H’ers turned in their pumpkins for official weights and judging. Certified scales were provided by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Division of Weights and Measures to ensure all entries were treated fairly.
Most Unique Pumpkin
Unique pumpkins were those that had interesting ripening patterns and atypical shapes.
2020: Collin Nortman — Beauregard Parish
2021: Carter Ryan — Concordia Parish
Most Uniform Pumpkin
2020: Amanda Croxton — Lincoln Parish
2021: Andrew Devillier — Pointe Coupee Parish
Uniform pumpkins are those with perfect shape and consistent color on all sides of the fruit. The fruit must be a perfect circle from overhead and even width all around from the bottom of the pumpkin (blossom-end) to the shoulders. Cinderella pumpkins are not jack-o'-lantern types. This variety is actually a winter squash and has a squat shape rather than round. Interestingly, it was this very pumpkin variety that cartoonists used to draw and imagine Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage.
2020: Isabella Sims — Caddo Parish
2021: Benjamin Brock — St. John the Baptist Parish
Record books that excelled included detailed notes from seeding through harvest and photographs to accompany. Winners included weekly observations detailing items such as first female flower appearance and charting leaf measurements. Winners also discussed methods they used to ward off pests.
2020: Violet Stockton — Lincoln Parish 68.5 pounds
2021: Lily Darch — Caddo Parish 42.42 pounds
Violet’s pumpkin weighed a whopping 68.5 pounds. This growth is stunning, as Cinderella pumpkins often average between 25 and 35 pounds each. Violet was able to double it. We want your fertilizer secrets, Violet!
2020: Carlisle Tomlinson — East Carroll parish 1.4 pounds
2021: Andrew Godke — West Feliciana Parish 1.6 pounds
To be eligible for the smallest pumpkin category, the pumpkin had to be fertilized. Students could not turn in an unfertilized ovary.
Overall, youth participating in this contest did a wonderful job. We were impressed by every entry. Each participant should be proud. Pumpkins are not an easy crop to grow as they are susceptible to worm, slug and snail damage as well as many diseases and viruses. We hope these students continue gardening throughout their lives, and our fingers are crossed that a few of them may even consider agriculture as a future career path. Great job, 4-H’ers! Keep gardening!
Kathryn K. Fontenot is an associate professor in the LSU AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, and Beth B. Putnam is a 4-H Youth Development agent in Washington Parish.
This article appeared in the summer 2022 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.
Carlisle Tomlinson, East Carroll Parish. Provided photo
Alex Patin, West Feliciana Parish. Provided photo
Andrew Godke, West Feliciana Parish. Provided photo
Landry Brouillette, West Feliciana Parish. Provided photo
Nathan Sasser, East Carroll Parish. Provided photo
Wyatt Conleay, Tangipahoa Parish. Provided photo