A plethora of pumpkins at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center is part of the 11-state Squash Hunger Trial.
The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food, a service center of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, grew 10 varieties of edible, ornamental pumpkins as part of the project, said Matt Bertucci, assistant professor of sustainable fruit and vegetable production.
Bertucci coordinated Arkansas’ participation in the study with Annette Wszelaki, lead investigator behind the Squash Hunger Trial and vegetable extension specialist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The idea behind the Squash Hunger Trial is to look at crops with a long storage life that could supply those without access to fresh vegetables during the fall and winter with nutrient-dense foods for a longer time throughout the year, Wszelaki said. The project includes university partners in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.
The varieties grown in the multi-state trial included Blue Delight, Fairytale, Flat White Boer, Jarrahdale, Marina di Chioggia, Mint Prince, Porcelain Doll, Royal Blue, Speckled Hound and Triamble.
“They are all specialty pumpkins of some sort, so they are really attractive on the exterior,” Bertucci said. “They have cool rind patterns, cool textures, but they are all edible.”
The pumpkins range in hues of blue, green, mint, pink, green and orange, with various sizes, shapes and textures. According to an Arkansas extension fact sheet about gardening pumpkins (https://bit.ly/uaex-pumpkin -gardening), pumpkins are among the cucurbit family of flowering plants that include cucumbers, gourds, melons and squashes.
The pumpkin patch was the first mid-scale farm project at the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food, said CAFF farm manager and field educator Jonathan McArthur. Growing pumpkins requires more land per plant than other fruits. About 25-30 square feet are needed per pumpkin vine.
There were six plants per plot at 3-foot spacing on 10-foot centers to make each 180-square-foot plot. Four plots of each variety were planted from transplants in ground that followed a mixed-legume cover crop with general nutrient guidelines of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, McArthur said. The seedlings were transplanted in June and harvested in September. Pumpkins can be harvested 100 to 120 days after planting, depending on the variety.
Heather Friedrich, assistant director of CAFF, said from a production standpoint, the trial was important to find out how each variety did on resisting insects and diseases.
McArthur also noted he has seen a demand for these edible pumpkins as food and not just ornaments.