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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Pick the Perfect Pumpkin For the Holiday Season

LAS CRUCES -- Fall brings harvest moons, crisp weather and brightly colored leaves. Few crops epitomize the season like pumpkins.


"Pumpkins are a practical source of food, and they also bring out the creativity in us," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "With only a pocket knife, budding artists can create a magical jack-o-lantern."

In New Mexico, most pumpkins are grown in the Estancia Valley. The arrival of Jack Frost causes leaves to drop from the tangle of vines, leaving commercial pumpkin fields with an orange, polka-dotted landscape.

"Harvest crews will remove the fruit from the vines and stack them in long windrows that look like orange ribbons at a Halloween party," Dickerson said.

Once the pumpkins reach the store, they're ready to be picked again -- by consumers.

"Uniformity in shape and color is important when selecting a pumpkin for carving," Dickerson said. "The rind should be smooth for easy carving and hard enough to resist denting with a thumbnail." Choose a pumpkin that has a sturdy, 1- to 2-inch stem. "A broken stem is a good entry point for bacteria," he said.

Pumpkins come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors to fit consumers' needs. 'Howden' is a common large pumpkin, weighing 20 pounds or more, grown for the jack-o-lantern market. 'Ghost Rider' is slightly smaller and a favorite for carving and cooking.

"Another variety, 'Triple Treat', is special because it can be used to make jack-o-lanterns and pies, and the seeds can be roasted for a holiday snack," Dickerson said. "For a really unique carving, try 'Lumina', a ghostly white pumpkin with orange flesh."

Miniature pumpkins like 'Jack Be Little' are popular as table decorations. They measure only 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. 'Baby Boo' is a miniature white pumpkin.

A larger pumpkin can be hollowed out and used as a vase. "Scoop out all the flesh from inside and fill the pumpkin with autumn foliage and dried flowers for a festive holiday decoration," Dickerson said.