A rainy summer yields low production of seasonal pumpkins in IL

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

Jack-O’-lanterns and pumpkin pies may be a little rarer this October because pumpkin production is down in Illinois, which is the major pumpkin producing state in the country, growing 13_pumpkinalmost 500 million pounds per year since 2008.

According to Theresa Meers of the Parkland Agricultural Department, Illinois has “good soils” and “temperatures are ideal” for pumpkins. A large amount of pumpkins are grown in the area surrounding the Libby’s Canning Factory in Morton in Tazewell County.

“Pumpkins are squash in the family Cucurbitaceae and this family also includes cucumbers and cantaloupes,” Michael Retzier said, a plant biologist and faculty member in Parkland’s Natural Sciences Department. “The pumpkins that we grow are annuals, which sprout and fruit all in one year. They are also interesting in that the flowers are either male or female, not both on the same flower like many flowering plants. Both flowers occur on the same plants and if you know what to look for you can tell the difference.”

The decline in the pumpkin population seems to have to do with the rain earlier this year. Meers believes that the large amount of rain in May and June washed the plants out. During those two rainy months, there was too much standing water in the pumpkin patches. The roots of pumpkins may have drown and rotted.

“Too much water may also wash away the nitrogen fertilizer the plant needs,” Retzier said.

According to Meers, pumpkins need 75 to 100 frost-free days to grow. If a farmer replanted the pumpkin patch in early July, they could not guarantee that there would not be a frost in September. That is why there are fewer pumpkins for the holidays in October and November this year.

Meers believes that next year, farmers in Illinois can improve their yields by using shorter season varieties of pumpkins. Farmers should also improve drainage of their patches. Hopefully the farmers have their patches planted by June next year, so that their crops will be ready by October.

According to Wolford and Banks, “80 percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.”

Even in years with less rainy weather, large pumpkins are what Meers calls a “tender vegetable.”

Another reason Retzier believes led to their decline is that they are pollinated by bees. Bee populations are suffering from many different factors at the moment, including a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Despite all these problems growing large pumpkins, a person can grow a small pumpkin in their yard by recycling their Jack-O’-Lanterns.

“At home I might set our Halloween pumpkin in the compost pile or garden bed and I usually get a “free” pumpkin plant out of the seeds the next year,” Ritzier said.