This week’s question was asked by Mya Mayer, fifth grade, Camp Douglas Elementary School.
Teacher: Jan Schmidt.
QUESTION: How do you get a big pumpkin patch from only a couple of seeds?
ANSWER: As a kid, I was amazed at what was happening. Not with pumpkins, but with corn. I knew that a simple kernel of corn, planted in late April or early May, would sprout one stalk of corn with one good ear of corn by October. I was so curious about this “multiplication” effect, that I went to the corn crib, picked out a pretty good looking ear of corn, and proceeded to shuck all the kernels off of the ear. I remember counting 16 rows and 720 kernels total.
It’s almost a miracle, is it not? One seed can yield anywhere from three to 15 pumpkins, depending on the variety of pumpkin, soil conditions, water, nutrients and space. The plants can spread out from 10 to 20 feet. As a rule, the more pumpkins per vine, the smaller the pumpkins.
A cornfield provides pumpkin plants some needed shelter. Cornfields coexist nicely with watermelons, also.
The average pumpkin contains 500 seeds. The number of seeds in a pumpkin varies based on a pumpkin’s size and weight with a range of 100 seeds up to 700 seeds.
Pumpkins are a known source of fiber and contain the antioxidant beta-carotene. The pumpkin came out of Mexico and worked its way north over centuries. The pumpkin is one of the most prevalent crops in the United States. The top producers are Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. The crop comes in at an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins produced each year.
Pumpkins grown for pie filling and such are harvested mechanically. A machine that looks like a snowplow, goes through the field and snips the pumpkins off the vines and lines them up in a row. The pumpkins are left in the field a week or two to cure.
Later, a tractor, fitted with a conveyor belt, moves through the field, picks up the pumpkins and dumps them in a padded truck. Then it is off to the processing plant.
The pumpkins are washed in a disinfectant, then rinsed. Next, they are chopped into small pieces, then cooked. After that comes the puree process in which the pumpkin is mashed into a soft creamy paste at the same time being sieved to remove pieces of skin, shell, or rind.
Who can grow the largest pumpkin? The record holder is Tim and Susan Mathison of Napa, California, with a 2,032-pounder. It needed 105 days to go from seed to harvest. It is now on display at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Our area has a largest-pumpkin-growing champ in the person of John Lanier. John caught the largest-pumpkin-growing bug from his father, Edwin Lanier, a respected educator in the Tomah Area School District. John was cheered on by his mother, Lyda Lanier. The Black River Falls resident grew a 1,300-pounder in 2016. It won first place in a Thorp contest and fourth place in a Madison contest.
What does it take to grow a champion pumpkin? “Weather and soil,” John says. John may have some additional secrets.
Send questions and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.
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