The pleasing pumpkinDesirable pumpkins are no accident
From as small as a half a pound to as large as 200 pounds, at least 30 varieties of pumpkins can be seen growing in a roadside field at the Test Farm in Waynesville.
It’s all part of the largest pumpkin variety trial in the state, an annual project between the Mountain Research Station, North Carolina State University, the University of Tennessee and private seed companies.
The purpose of the trial is to research the different types of pumpkins because the varieties are constantly changing, said Kaleb Rathbone, research operations manager at the Mountain Research Station.
“Seed companies continue to fine tune their genetics by looking at characteristics that consumers desire in pumpkins,” he said.
When formulating the perfect pumpkin for Jack-O-Lanterns, for example, seeds are developed specifically to create the traditional orange, large, round pumpkins with long stems to be used as handles that are disease resistant.
Some pumpkins are created to be ornamental, such as the spotted, bumpy variety. Others, like a blue pumpkin found in the field right now, are grown specifically for cooking. That pumpkin yields more fruit inside the pumpkin than the carving pumpkins, for example.
“When you buy a pumpkin in a store, nothing about that pumpkin is by accident. It is developed to be a desirable pumpkin,” Rathbone said.
Researchers are evaluating yield, production, disease resistance and more in each variety of pumpkin.
A new aspect of the pumpkin trial this year will be to evaluate the baking characteristics and conduct a nutritional analysis of different pumpkins in cooperation with the NC research campus in Kannapolis.
“A chef will evaluate the cooking characteristics and a nutritionist will evaluate the nutrition of the pumpkin through the Plants for Human Health Institute. Their goal is to develop healthier, more nutritious food through genetics,” Rathbone said.
The entire pumpkin field was sold through a bid process and the money from that sale will go back to support the research program.
“Our primary focus is to collect this info and put it out there to the growers,” Rathbone said.