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Skaggs: Holiday pumpkins are plentiful in North Georgia
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If you spend any time traveling through Northeast Georgia this time of year, you are guaranteed to see pumpkins.

In North Georgia, pumpkins are an integral part of the fall display of color. Go to most any fall festival, civic function or town hall and you’re sure to see a few pumpkins placed here and there as festive decoration.

Total U.S. pumpkin production in 2006 was valued at $101.3 million. The top pumpkin production states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. In Illinois alone, approximately 500 million pounds of pumpkins are produced annually.

Nationwide, pumpkins are grown primarily for processing, with a small percentage grown for ornamental sales through you-pick farms, farmers’ market and retail sales.

The state of Georgia does not produce a large number of pumpkins, and most produced in our area are sold at roadside stands and farmers markets. One such operation is located right in Hall County — Jaemor Farms.

Jaemor has been growing pumpkins for a number of years, and according to Drew Echols, 2008 is their best year yet.

"So far, we’ve harvested approximately 20,000 this year — which is a lot for us. We have more than enough to supply our market," Echols said.

According to Echols, the key to their success is growing pumpkins on plastic with drip irrigation.

Drip irrigation under plastic mulch requires 50 percent less water as compared to pumpkins planted on bare ground with traditional irrigation.

Pumpkin seeds are planted on plastic germinate one week earlier than those planted on bare ground and, in addition, yield much better.

One change Jaemor made this year was switching from black plastic mulch to white plastic.

"The white plastic doesn’t absorb as much heat as the black and we see a lot less wilting," Echols said. " Less wilting means less irrigation."

Georgia’s production of pumpkins falls well short of our northern neighbors such as Illinois and Ohio due mainly to our hot, humid climate.

Farmers trying to grow pumpkins in the Southeast face a number of problems, such as diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes — a microscopic roundworm that infects the roots.

When selecting a pumpkin, look for one with a firm stem and no bruising or cuts throughout the rest of the pumpkin. Once you have the pumpkin home, keep it in a cool, dry place. If you carve the pumpkin (always a treat for the kids), do it a week or two before Halloween and cover it with a damp towel when it’s not lit.

Billy Skaggs is a Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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