Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Agriculture

September 13, 2010

Local pumpkin farmer shares secrets of success

GLASGOW — Pumpkins are often used in fall displays, along with mums, bales of straw and corn stalks.

There are more than a hundred varieties of pumpkins. Some are more suitable for fall displays than others, while some are grown specifically for use has Halloween jack-o’-lanterns.

Brandon Bell, agriculture Extension agent for Metcalfe County, has grown pumpkins for about 15 years. He recently shared some of the secrets to growing a successful pumpkin crop during a program at the Barren County Cooperative Extension Office.

“I started growing peppers and figured out pumpkins were less work and they were a little bit more profitable,” he said.

Bell wholesales pumpkins to various customers in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“I will sell, depending on the year, 30,000 pumpkins, plus or minus, and very few of those are retail,” he said.

A majority of his customers are roadside markets, which sell pumpkins to customers for fall displays and for use as Halloween jack-o’-lanterns.

Not all pumpkins are grown specifically for displays. Some are grown  for canning.

“About 85 percent of that we get out of a can is grown near Peoria, Ill.,” Bell said.

He credits agritourism for the success of the pumpkin market.

“If it wasn’t for agritourism, there wouldn’t be much of a market for pumpkins,” he said. “One reason they fit so well into agritourism as you all know, they are ornamental.”

Bell sells his pumpkins at a cost that his half of what they would bring retail.

To make sure pumpkins are ready for harvest by late summer, he plants his pumpkins by mid-June.

“There are hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of varieties,” he said.

The Magic Lantern variety will produce a lot of pumpkins per acre and tend to be medium-sized.

The Cannon Ball variety tends to be small and is often used in cooking.

The Aladdin variety is most commonly used in making Halloween jack-o’-lanterns.

He cautions people not to plant just one variety.

“Put out two or three varieties. That way if one fails, you’ll have one to fall back on,” he said.

Pumpkins are susceptible to disease and insects, that’s why it is important to spray them. He sprays his pumpkin vines once every seven to 10 days.

Bell uses a one-row tobacco setter to plant his pumpkins. He tends to plant his pumpkins three feet apart in a row and his rows are usually six feet apart.

“If you plant them closer, your pumpkins will be smaller,” he said.

As for the condition of the soil, Bell said it doesn’t really matter.

“They are pretty tolerant as far as the ground you put them in,” he said.

Bell places beehives near his pumpkin crops to insure a higher yield. The bees cross-pollinate the pumpkin vines.

“You’ll increase your production by one-third by putting bees out,” he said.

The one thing that will ensure the sale of a pumpkin is a good stem.

“A good stem will sell an ugly pumpkin,” Bell said.

Growing pumpkins can be a profitable agribusiness, he said, adding if he didn’t make money from growing pumpkins he wouldn’t do it.

The biggest downside to growing pumpkins is finding a market for them, he said.

Bell started out selling a small amount of pumpkins, but over the years his business has grown.

He wholesales pumpkins to customers in Smyrna, Murfreesboro and Jackson, Tenn., and in Hazard in eastern Kentucky.

For more information, contact Bell at the Metcalfe County Cooperative Extension Office at 432-4618 or contact Kristin Goodin at the Barren County Cooperative Extension Office at 651-3818.

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