It’s Pumpkin Harvesting Time!
Pumpkins and other winter squash fruit take a long time to mature. Preserving them after picking off of the vine is the tricky part.
Knowing when to harvest the fruit is the first step to preserving a ripe pumpkin or winter squash for as long as possible.
Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn and Hubbard, are mature when the skin of the fruit resists puncture from a thumbnail. The skin of the winter squash will appear dull and dry when mature. In contrast, the immature fruit will appear brighter.
Pumpkins should also resist puncture from a thumbnail and have a firm rind when they are ready to harvest. When picking pumpkins, make sure to leave a long stem, or handle. However, for winter squash, be sure to remove the stems completely.
Surprisingly, a mature pumpkin will store better than an immature fruit will. Therefore, it is essential to know when to harvest.
While most amateur pumpkin farmers know how to harvest a mature fruit, they may not understand the importance of properly curing and storing them.
The curing process involves increasing storage temperatures and relative humidity for approximately 10 days. Typically, temperatures are raised to 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit with 75 to 80 percent relative humidity.
After curing, reduce the temperature and relative humidity. For pumpkins, reduce the temperature to 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 50 to 75 percent.
Once the curing process is complete, it is time to store the pumpkin and winter squash. Make sure the fruit is well matured and free from injury or decay before storage.
Keeping the fruit dry with good air circulation will prolong the post-harvest life. In addition, continue to control and monitor the humidity levels of the storage location. High humidity can cause decay, whereas low humidity can cause excessive weight loss for the fruit.
The harvesting, curing and post-harvest storage of pumpkin and winter squash makes the growing process seem like a breeze. Don’t fret, all of the hard work is worth it for a healthy, long-lasting fruit.
For more information on pumpkins and other winter squash, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.
With fall here, the radiant autumn colors of chrysanthemums for sale begin to line the entrances of grocery stores across Alabama. Chrysanthemums, better known as “mums,” are a signature fall flower in the south.
“Mums add variety and color to the fall landscape during a time when most gardens are beginning to lose their attraction,” said Lucy Edwards, a regional home grounds agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System..
Knowing how to pick the right mum for a garden or front steps can help liven up the fading colors of fall and prepare for Halloween festivities.
Know Your Mum
There are two main categories of mums: floral and garden. Floral mums are not typically grown outside and are sold by florists for arrangements, and garden mums are seen in the garden centers or outside of grocery stores in the fall.
They can also be categorized by shape or type. The two most common types of flowers on mums are daisy and decorative. Colors can range from white, bronze, yellow, red, coral, pink, lavender and red.
“When purchasing, select colors that will complement your home’s exterior,” Edwards said. “Pairing with pansies, snapdragons, and pumpkins can create a festive fall display.”
How To Pick A Healthy Mum
To ensure mums thrive throughout the fall season, pick mums with their blooms not entirely open. This allows for longer bloom time.
“Always inspect the mums in the store for signs of insects or disease,” she said. “No one wants a sick plant!”
Powdery mildew is a disease most common on mums in the fall, resulting from hot, humid weather, which is an almost certainty in Alabama. If you discover powdery mildew on your plants, remove the infected leaves, and treat with a labeled fungicide.
Mums are relatively easy and grow, especially in Alabama weather, either in containers or a planted landscape. These flowers perform best in moist, well-drained soil with added compost. Try to avoid wet, poorly drained soil.
Sunlight is essential for most flowers. Choose a planting site that receives six hours or more of sun.
“Regular sunlight and watering can keep mums thriving until the first frost,” Edwards said.
When planting in a landscape, plant at the same depth as the container the mum came in. Typically, garden mums are planted in late fall after they have finished blooming.
These perennials survive best divided every 2 to 3 years. If not divided, the new growth will be long and spindly with fewer blooms.
“Pinching the new shoots in the spring will encourage lateral shoots, resulting in more flowers and a fuller plant,” Edwards said.
Do not pinch after July, or the mum may not have time for blooms to develop.
For more information on these and other fall flowers, visit the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu.
Extending Your Okra Crop
One planting of okra can produce both a spring crop and an even bigger fall crop if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Most okra cultivars are ready to pick 55 to 60 days after planting, or about 4 to 6 days after flowering. Pods should be harvested when they are 2 1⁄2 to 3 1⁄2 inches long. They can be snapped off or cut off. Cutting takes longer but produces a cleaner, nicer product.
On average, an acre of okra should produce 200 to 250 30-pound bushels on bare ground when irrigated. Yields are considerably greater when okra is grown on polyethylene mulch or mulched with compost or other organic materials.
As okra plants age through the summer, they tend to top out and produce a declining number of pods. Market price for okra typically declines sharply as well. At this point in production, cutting back or topping your okra will allow plantings to reestablish themselves.
Cutting back okra allows the plants to rejuvenate to produce a late summer/fall crop. Cut back plants using a mower or pruning shears, leaving 6 to 12 inches of each plant above the ground. Refertilize with 15-0-14, 8-0-24, or 13-0-44 to encourage regrowth and development of side branches.
By following these guidelines, your fall yield of okra often will exceed that of your spring crops.