2021 Eastern North Carolina Pumpkin Cultigen Evaluation Study
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Hort. Series # 240
Principal Investigators: Jonathan R. Schultheis, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University; Erin R. Eure, Area Specialized Agent, Commercial Fruits and Vegetables Northeast Region, NC State Extension; Stuart W. Michel, Research Technician, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Fred Smith and A.J. Smith & Sons Farm in Edenton, NC. We also want to acknowledge the following seed companies for their cooperation and support: Hollar Seeds; HM Clause Seed Company; Johnny’s Seeds; Rupp Seeds and Sakata Seed Company. Additionally, we would like to thank all of the summer employees, support staff, graduate students, and Cooperative Extension Agents from both North Carolina and Virginia who assisted with planting, harvesting, and evaluating the trial. We would also like to acknowledge Joy Smith for conducting the statistical analysis on the data collected in this study. Finally, we want to acknowledge that support for this study was provided by the US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, for the CucCAP Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant under award number 2020-51181-32139.
This publication presents data from the pumpkin cultigen evaluation study conducted during 2021. Information contained in this report is believed to be reliable but should not be relied upon as a sole source of information. Limited accompanying detail is included but excludes some pertinent information, which may aid interpretation.
In 2020, North Carolina ranked 13th in pumpkin production for the United States, which represented 1% of total U.S. production (2021 North Carolina Agricultural Statistics, USDA NASS). There was an estimated 3,500 acres of pumpkins harvested in North Carolina for 2021, which translated to a 7.3 million USD production value for the state (2021 State Agriculture Overview, USDA NASS). Pumpkin production in most states is targeted towards the seasonal fresh market for ornamental use and home processing. Growers in the U.S. mainly produce jack-o`-lantern type pumpkins, but the demand for specialty pumpkins like ‘Blue’, ‘White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Warty’, etc. is growing as consumers look for new and interesting varieties. Peak retail price occurred in the fourth week of October of 2021, at an average price of $5.80 per pumpkin for ‘Howden’ (jack-o`-lantern type) pumpkins. This is a significant increase from the retail price in 2020, which was $4.10 per ‘Howden’ pumpkin during the same time period (Pumpkins: Background & Statistics, ERS USDA). In the western parts of NC, pumpkin production is extensive due to the favorable climate and soil conditions of the region. Growing conditions in the higher elevations in western NC seems to translate to less disease pressure (2019 North Carolina and Tennessee Pumpkin Cultigen Evaluations, NC State). A smaller, yet growing percentage of NC grown pumpkins are raised in the hotter, more humid areas of the eastern part of the state. Due to the difference in climate, eastern growers must approach pumpkin production slightly different than western growers. Cultivars that yield well with high quality in the west may not respond the same in the east. Due to the climatic differences, eastern growers seek cultivars with higher heat tolerance and disease resistance. The pumpkin cultigens in this evaluation study were grown in the Eastern region of NC at A.J. Smith & Sons Farm in Edenton, NC. One of the primary goals of this study was to evaluate current and new pumpkin cultigens in the 30 to 40 count bin size class (15-20 lb) as this is currently where demand is highest. A few recently released smaller cultivars (< 10 lb) were also included in the study due to the increasing market demand for specialty types, which also includes different color and texture rinds. The cultigens in this study were mainly evaluated for yield and size. However, each entry was also rated for shape, color, suturing, handle characteristics, and fruit size measurements. The fruit obtained from each replicated entry are also identified in a photograph; except for ‘XPU 6002’ due to lack of fruit set. Several other cultigens were included in the study as observation plots (non-replicated) and photographs of these entries are included for identification.
Materials and Methods
The study was conducted at A.J. Smith & Sons Farm in Edenton, NC. Seeds were planted on 15 June 2021 on beds in no-till wheat straw and were watered with overhead irrigation. A total of 26 entries were evaluated, with 8 of the 26 entries included as observation (non-replicated) plots. The 18 replicated entries were evaluated in a randomized complete block design (RCBD) with 4 replications. ‘Kratos’ and ‘Orange Sunrise’ were included as industry standards for the 30-40 count bin size. Each plot measured 20 feet long with 5 plants spaced 4 feet apart in-row and 6 feet apart between-row. Each plot was evaluated at 1 and 2 weeks after planting to ensure a full stand count of 5 plants per plot. The study was harvested 13 September 2021, 90 days after planting (DAP), and fruit were evaluated for yield and quality. Pumpkin color, shape and suturing, as well as handle length, thickness, and attachment were rated subjectively for each plot. For a detailed description of how each quality parameter was measured, see Table 5 and Table 6 footnotes.
Pumpkin entries are discussed by size category (small and medium) and are organized in tables alphabetically. A representative photo, grouped by size category, was taken of each cultigen which aimed to illustrate key characteristics of each entry (Fig. 1, Fig. 2, Fig. 3) A list of the entries by size category are included in (Table 1).
Small (< 10 lb)
6 entries were evaluated in the ‘small’ size category (< 10 lb). Average fruit size ranged from 3.2 to 8.5 lb with ‘Yosemite’ (RPX 6888) being the smallest and ‘Moon Beam’ being the largest (Table 2). The cultigen with the highest total yield in the small size category was Baby Moon at 42,761 lb/ac. The immature fruit yield for Baby Moon was 2,786 lb/ac which left a marketable yield of 39,975 lb/ac for this cultigen. ‘Lemonade’ had the lowest total yield in the small fruit size category at 9,610 lb/ac. ‘Lemonade’ also had the highest percent of immature fruit by weight at 23%. The cultigen with the highest total fruit number (no.) per acre was Baby Moon at 11,162 no./ac, of which 89% were mature at the time of harvest. ‘Lemonade’ had the lowest total fruit number at 1,452 no./ac, of which only 69% were mature at the time of harvest. Percent immature fruit by number ranged from 9% with ‘Pipsqueak’ and ‘Yosemite’ (RPX 6880), to 31% with ‘Lemonade’. ‘Baby Moon’, ‘Honey Moon’, and ‘Moon Beam’ were white, ‘Pipsqueak’ and ‘Yosemite’ (RPX 6880) were orange, and ‘Lemonade’ was yellow. Fruit shape was round to moderately tall.
Medium (10 – 15 lb)
12 entries were evaluated in the ‘medium’ size category (10-15 lb). Data for entry ‘XPU 6002’ could not be collected due to a lack of fruit set. Thus, there is no photograph in Figure 2 or data that could be presented in Tables 3 and 5. Average fruit size ranged from 10.6 to 14.2 lb with ‘Fright’ being the smallest and ‘Giltedge Gold’ (RPX 6879) being the largest (Table 3). ‘JPN-4448’ had the highest total yield in the medium size category at 44,454 lb/ac. The immature fruit yield for ‘JPN-4448’ was 5,291 lb/ac with the remaining marketable yield being 39,163 lb/ac. ‘Tons of Fun’ had the lowest total yield in the medium fruit category at 5,781 lb/ac. The cultigen with the highest percent of immature fruit by weight was Magic Wand at 59%. The cultigen with the highest total fruit number per acre was JPN-4448 at 4,265 no./ac. Although ‘JPN-4448’ had the highest total fruit number, ‘Fright’ had a similar marketable yield compared to ‘JPN-4448’. This is due to the number of immature fruit. ‘JPN-4448’ had 726 immature fruit per acre and ‘Fright’ had 0. ‘Tons of Fun’ had the lowest total fruit number at 545 no./ac. The cultigen with the highest percent of immature fruit by fruit number was Magic Wand at 63%. All fruit in this size category were orange, with the exception of ‘Fright’ and ‘Knuckle Head’, which both had an orange base and green warts. Fruit shapes were mostly round (Table 4).
Specialty Pumpkins (Observation Plots)
Blanco and Speckled Hound cultivars produced high tonnage and high numbers of fruit per acre (Table 5). The high tonnage with these cultivars was especially good given the relatively small size of fruit (approximately 5 lb). The Porcelain Doll cultivar produced a high tonnage per acre; however, 20% of fruits were immature. A delay in harvest would have likely resulted in increased marketable yields. Kakai, Long Island Cheese, and Sunlight cultivars had relatively low yields in this study. Additional quality and descriptor information for these specialty cultivars can be found in Table 6.
Overall, this study showed lower yields when compared to previous pumpkin cultigen evaluations at different locations. This was expected due to the climatic differences between eastern and western North Carolina. For example, the cultigen Bayhorse Gold yielded 1,724 fruit per acre at the Edenton location in 2021, compared 2,360 fruit per acre in the 2019 eastern study (2019 Northeast North Carolina and Southeast Virginia on Farm Pumpkin Cultigen Evaluation Study, NC State). These eastern yields for ‘Bayhorse Gold’ are both far lower than the 3,549 fruit per acre obtained at the Upper Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs, NC in 2019 (2019 North Carolina and Tennessee Pumpkin Cultigen Evaluations, NCSU). Another example is the cultigen Orange Sunrise, included in the study as an industry standard, which yielded 2,450 fruit per acre at Edenton in 2021, compared to 2,632 fruit per acre in the east in 2019, and 4,356 fruit per acre at Laurel Springs in 2019.
This study also demonstrated smaller fruit sizes than the 2019 evaluations. The average fruit weight for ‘Bayhorse Gold’ in the 2021 study was 12.9 lb compared to 15.1 lb in the 2019 eastern study, and 21.1 lb in the 2019 Laurel Springs study. Due to this difference in size, ‘Bayhorse Gold’ was classified as a ‘medium’ sized pumpkin in the 2021 and 2019 eastern studies, but was classified as an ‘extra-large’ sized pumpkin in the 2019 study Laurel Springs study. Similarly, the cultigen Kratos, also included in this study as an industry standard, was classified in the 2019 and 2021 eastern studies as a ‘medium’ sized pumpkin with average fruit weights of 13.7 lb and 13.2 lb respectively, but categorized as ‘Jumbo’ in the 2019 Laurel Springs study with average fruit weights of 25.5 lb.
The data from this study suggests Eastern pumpkin growers may experience lower yields in terms of fruit number and size as compared to western growers. Eastern growers should also take note, when selecting cultigens from seed catalogs, that advertised fruit size categories may not hold true for certain cultigens in the harsher eastern climate. Pumpkin production is more challenging in eastern North Carolina due to the warmer temperatures and higher humidity. However, these studies help growers select more heat tolerant varieties that can produce acceptable yields in their growing conditions. This study helps illustrate the importance of evaluating pumpkin cultigens in different environments, as cultigen response can be quite variable.