ESCANABA - For many it isn't October without a Jack-O-Lantern on the front porch and a pumpkin pie in the oven, but before a pumpkin can become a decorated or delicious treat, it has to leave the pumpkin patch.
"We've been growing pumpkins around here for a long time," said Warren Schauer, business management educator for the Michigan State University Extension Institute for Agriculture and Agribusiness. "I'm sure that some years are better than others."
According to Schauer, because pumpkins are warm season vegetables, they tend to produce better in slightly warmer growing seasons. However, this year's cool summer does not seem to have had a negative affect on the availability of locally-grown pumpkins.
Students from Heidi Miron and Ramona Brandt’s kindergarten classes at Soo Hill visit John and Renee Miron’s pumpkin patch in Cornell Wednesday. After a hay ride through the patch each student picked out a pumpkin to take home. (Daily Press photo by Ilsa Matthes)
"They like a little warmer temperatures so this year might not have been the best year for pumpkins, but people have them to sell," he said.
While there are many uses for pumpkins, ranging from deer bait to table decorations, some varieties of pumpkin are grown with specific purposes in mind.
"There are varieties that are a little bit better for pie pumpkins and some that are a little bit better for Jack-O-Lanterns," said Schauer.
The pumpkins that John and Renee Miron have grown at their home in Cornell for the past 29 years are best suited to carving Jack-O-Lanterns. Every year the couple welcomes school children to their pumpkin patch.
"We take them on a hay ride out to the patch and they each get to pick out a pumpkin," said Renee.
For the children picking out pumpkins in the Miron's patch, the selection of the perfect pumpkin is a matter of preference, but there are signs that pumpkin hunters can look for that indicate a ripe gourd.
While the first indicators of a pumpkin's ripeness is the color of the its skin, pumpkins come in a variety of shades including white, blue, green, tan and red. This could make it difficult to identify a ripe pumpkin of a hybrid or heirloom variety that does not have the vegetable's trademark orange skin.
According to the National Gardening Association, ripe pumpkins can be identified by thumping the pumpkin with your fingertips, because ripe pumpkins produce a hollow sound. A final test of a ripe pumpkin is to press a fingernail against the skin of the pumpkin. The skin of a ripe pumpkin will resist puncture.
Pumpkins used for cooking or carving should not have any soft spots, which are an indication of rotting or frost damage.
A common preservation method for Jack-O-Lanterns involves spraying the freshly cut surfaces with a mild bleach mixture or bleach-based cleaning spray. This kills the bacteria and mold spores on the surface of the pumpkin before they can attack the newly exposed pumpkin flesh.