by Bill and Mary Weaver
“Offering a variety of sizes, colors and shapes of pumpkins will draw customers to your farm or market stand,” said Extension Horticulture Specialist Katie Kammler. There are other ideas that can increase your sales and add value to your pumpkin harvest.
Try scarring some of your pumpkins, for example. Once the scars heal, the words, names, pictures or design on the surface of a still-growing, green pumpkin will become decorative, raised and bright white. The scarred pumpkin will last far longer than a freshly carved, mature jack-o’-lantern.
The deeper you cut when you scar, the more raised and visible the decorative scar will be. First, draw the design on the pumpkin at least a month before the rind will harden, using a magic marker or ball point pen. Then, using a pocket knife, cookie cutters (pounded into the rind with a hammer) or a thin, flat-head screwdriver if you prefer a wider scar, cut around or within the outlines you have drawn.
“When you first make the cuts, you will barely be able to see them, but as the pumpkin grows and the scars heal, they will become very visible and attention-catching,” stated Kammler. Some growers have a separate small patch where interested children and adults can scar pumpkins to their liking and come back and pick them up when they are fully hardened.
There are other simple ways to decorate pumpkins that will give customers longer-lasting decorations than carving them. “A simple black spider web design, complete with spider, drawn on a smaller white pumpkin with a magic marker,” is quite striking said Kammler.
Or decorate a small white pumpkin with eyes and fangs and complete the “bat effect” with stiff black wings, cut from black construction paper attached to each side. A small display of a pumpkin “family,” one named for each family member, attracts many children and can sell additional pumpkins.
If you have the space, set up a table where children can carve or otherwise decorate their pumpkins on site. You’ll find that many children will be inspired to purchase and decorate more than one. Have plenty of examples on hand to inspire the children to greater ingenuity.
The best source of great ideas for decorating pumpkins, says Kammler, is Pinterest.
Having a huge “monster pumpkin” on display [with improved breeding, they are looking less like pink blobs and more like Halloween pumpkins every year] will attract customer interest. Often stores and businesses will pay good prices for these.
“Remind customers that some pumpkins and winter squash make delicious, nutritious eating in addition to being decorative. A poster with the names of varieties that have sweet, thick, smooth flesh for baking can answer customers’ questions about these.
“To teach customers how to prepare good tasting varieties of pumpkins and winter squash, tie a ribbon around the stem holding a tag with a recipe and ‘how to prepare’ instructions,” Kammler explained. “This is a good way to add value to an otherwise ordinary-looking pumpkin or squash.” As a general rule, many of the flattened blue pumpkins are excellent for baking including Jarrahdale, Australian Blue, Blue Doll and Blue Moon. These are descendants of varieties from Australia and New Zealand where they were used for that purpose.
Flattened pale yellow/tan pumpkins, including Long Island Cheese, are likely descendants of a French heirloom variety long popular for baking. This group includes the flattened green and orange Fairy Tale and the similarly shaped bright orange Cinderella, all of which can be recommended for good eating. Many of the “peanut” pumpkins, with their raised “corky” warts, also have sweet flesh that is smooth when baked.
The green and orange buttercup-shaped Speckled Hound is also prized for baking, as are many of its similarly drum-shaped, corky-stemmed cousins. Thick-necked, tan butternut squash are some of the best for pies. You can make these drab-looking items more interesting if you draw an eye-catching face on the rounded end with a black marker. The same tactic can increase sales of spaghetti squash.
In general, most jack-o’-lantern pumpkins while edible have stringy, watery flesh that is not particularly tasty.
Hulless or naked-seed pumpkins, which are handy for roasting and snacking, will also find ready purchasers.
New England pie pumpkins are one of the few good baking pumpkins that have the appearance of a small jack-o’-lantern. Cushaw squash, with their wide green and white stripes are a favorite pie pumpkin in his family, Kammler noted.
Displays of the huge variety of shapes, colors and sizes of pumpkins, squash and gourds available in the cucurbita species are a big hit with customers. Mac Condill, co-owner of The 200 Acre Farm’s Pumpkin Patch provides customers with a unique selection of cucurbits. He currently grows roughly 300 varieties. Some of his varieties are grown from seed he personally collected from over 30 countries around the world. To encourage customers to cook and bake with pumpkins and squash, the farm provides samples from their Homestead Bakery to the thousands of visitors who flock there each fall, passing out such specialty items as pumpkin fluff, pumpkin cookies and pancakes and a baked confection made with pumpkin and chocolate.
Jack Diffey, who grows over 100 different varieties of cucurbits on eight acres every year in Missouri as an avocation, draws customers from a wide area who are fascinated by the beauty and differences in colors, shapes and sizes of his harvest.
Katie Kammler grows over 200 varieties of cucurbits in her garden, simply because she is fascinated by their diversity and enjoys watching them.
Be sure to display decorating-with-pumpkins ideas too, if you have the space. “These can include centerpieces, table decorations and even wedding decorations.” For a simple centerpiece, for example, cut the top off a pumpkin, remove the seeds and strings and place a small vase of water filled with flowers inside, so the flowers appear to be growing out of the pumpkin.
Piled pumpkins are a relatively new decorative idea that can increase your pumpkin sales. Pile flattish pumpkin varieties in blue, such as Jarrahdale, tan, such as Long Island Cheese or in bright orange, such as Cinderella, for this use. Their flattened shapes stack well.
To make this porch decoration, cut the stems of a blue and a tan or orange flattish pumpkin very short, so when stacked, the stem of the one fits into the indentation in the bottom of the one on top. After stacking these, add a smaller orange, white or tan pumpkin on top. It’s “sort of like building a snowman.” Try to use three different colors. The result is very attractive.
Katie Kammler enthusiastically teaches about horticulture and especially cucurbits whenever the opportunity arises, for the University of Missouri Extension, Ste. Genevieve County.