Q: I have seen so many different pumpkin colors this year. I am amazed by the beauty. Can you tell me the names of some of the unusual varieties? Are they easy to grow in our area?
Answer: There are many different types of pumpkins and winter squash — with colors that rival spring flowers. While the following list isn’t exhaustive, it will get you started on your pumpkin journey of knowledge. The most common white varieties are Casper, lumina, moonshine and snowball. Little boo is a white miniature pumpkin. The blue varieties are marina di chioggia, which is slate blue with warts; queensland blue has an elongated shape and a dusky blue skin. Jaradale is a blue, small to medium-sized pumpkin that is a long keeper. Speckled hound is a quite a showy orange with green splotches on the shell. Hooligan is a miniature with white, green and orange mottled color. A new pink pumpkin is porcelain doll F1.
Pumpkins are not difficult to grow. Your soil must be well-drained, with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Don’t grow pumpkins where other squash-family plants have been grown for the last two years. Mildew can be a problem for pumpkins, so use mildew-resistant varieties when possible. Site your pumpkin patch in an area with excellent air movement. Pumpkins are insect pollinated. Planting composite-type flowers or adding a bee hive will increase the likelihood of good pollination.
Q: I love carving a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween and saving the seeds to eat. I like to decorate with pumpkins and gourds through the fall. Can some of the decorative pumpkins be used for cooking once Thanksgiving comes and goes?
Answer: Yes, there are many pumpkins that are not only attractive, but delicious and nutritious. Pumpkins were found at the first Thanksgiving as it was a staple of the American Indian diet. The orange flesh of pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta carotene. Beta carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.
One of my favorites for decorating and eating is the new fairytale variety. This is actually a type of cheese pumpkin and a French heirloom called musque de provence. It has a lovely shape, much like the pumpkin carriage in “Cinderella.” Fairytale changes from a muted green to a warm orange color as it matures, and it has a good flavor for baking. Another similar variety in the marketplace is the Cinderella pumpkin, or Rouge Vif d’Etampes, another variety originating in France. It is flattened and deeply ridged, making it an interesting addition to your fall arrangements. The flavor is quite good. Cushaw are beautiful cream- and green-striped pumpkins that look more like overgrown, oddly colored zucchini. The Cushaw, an heirloom variety, was a favorite with American Indians. Neck pumpkins have a gourd-like appearance with a muted orange color and creamy texture when cooked. These pumpkins are delicious with pork of any kind.
Mary Jac Brennan is the commercial horticulture agent for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (336) 703-2850.