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Skaggs: Its almost pumpkin time; Georgia has its share
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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.

The top U.S. pumpkin-producing states harvested more than 1 billion pounds of this Halloween favorite in 2007. Illinois led the country by producing 542 million pounds of the vined orange gourd.

Pumpkin patches in Ohio, California and New York also provided lots of pumpkins: Each state produced at least 100 million pounds. The value of all pumpkins produced by major pumpkin-producing states was $117 million.

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

The state of Georgia does not produce a large number of pumpkins for processing. Most pumpkins grown in our area are sold at roadside stands and farmers markets. One such operation is located in Hall County: Jaemor Farms.

Jaemor has been growing pumpkins for a number of years, and according to Drew Echols, farm manager, 2009 is stacking up to the be the best year yet.

"Right now, things are looking great. We planted more pumpkins this year than ever before — 25 acres growing on plastic. If all goes well, we hope to pick around 50,000 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 planted on plastic germinate one week earlier than those planted on bare ground and, in addition, the yields are much better.

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 which 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 decide to 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