Halloween is the night when all true believers in the Great Pumpkin sit in the pumpkin patch until the moon rises. The Great Pumpkin then brings gifts to all who truly believe in him. I, for one, do not intend to spend Halloween night in the garden waiting for the pumpkin, but I have seen a great pumpkin, in fact several great pumpkins.
Last spring, readers of In Your Garden were instructed on growing giant pumpkins in their own gardens. Those that followed the instructions met with varying degrees of success. The information was gleaned from giant pumpkin growers throughout the world and here in Utah. It appears that the pumpkin kings still hold the world record with a 315-pound whopper. Russ Stokes and Kirk Barclay followed their own advice shared with readers earlier this year. That advice included good fertile soil, plenty of fertilizer, plenty of water and, most of all, enough room. Many growers plant their hills of pumpkins 25 to 50 feet apart.What good are giant pumpkins? Well for one thing, they win prizes in various pumpkin contests sponsored throughout the area by local nurseries. I suspect if pumpkins get much larger, they will indeed make a great place for "Peter-Peter" of nursery rhyme fame to put his wife to keep her very well. They make great jack-o-lanterns, even though they are a little difficult to carve because of the thick flesh and the tremendous amount of seeds. They can also be used to make pumpkin pies if you're not too concerned about the quality. If you supposed that pumpkins were used for pumpkin pies, you are mistaken. All commercially canned pumpkin actually comes from squashes, because the squash flesh is not as stringy and the production per acre is greater.
If you have giant squashes and pumpkins, or even some that are a little smaller, store them carefully. It's a good idea to allow them to cure for about a week in a warm dry place. For long term storage, place them in an area about 50 to 60 degrees with the humidity below 60 percent. They store well in a basement room on shelves. Don't allow the fruits to touch each other because that's where the initial fungal decay will start.
Most gardeners will find their needs are served better by smaller squashes. Even medium-size banana squashes may weigh 40 or 50 pounds, and it's pretty hard to convince most families to eat squash three times a day for a week or two. Some of the butter or buttercup squashes are higher quality and store better. They are easier to use up, and it eliminates the need to buy a cookbook titled "1001 Recipes for Squash." Even though the squashes have hard skins, do not bruise them as that damages the fruit and makes them more susceptible to decay. Sound fruits correctly stored will last several months.
Other vegetables suitable for common storage include carrots, beets and parsnips. These are often best left in the ground with a thick layer of mulch on top. Although mulching doesn't always prevent the plants from freezing, it will make them accessible when you want to get them out in the winter. Digging carrots out of chunks of frozen soil isn't my idea of a good time. To store these vegetables inside, put them in a cool, moist area, just above freezing. They require about 95 percent humidity. They are usually stored in moist sand, leaves or sawdust in a box in the cellar.
Potatoes prefer cool temperatures with dry, cool conditions. Onions and garlic also like these conditions. Do not store any of these vegetables in non-breathable boxes or containers. Burlap bags or red mesh onion bags work very well as storage containers. Be sure potatoes are kept in the dark so that they don't turn green and develop bitter, poisonous alkaloids.
Turnips, cabbages and cauliflower prefer cool, moderately moist conditions and temperatures about 35 degrees, with a humidity of 80 to 90 percent. Cabbage and cauliflower can be dug intact and replanted in sand in the cellar. Cover them in the garden with a heavy layer of straw or leaves if you lack space in a cellar.
Apples also store well in cool moderately moist conditions. If you're looking for apples to store, here are a few hints. Golden delicious apples never get any better than the day they are picked. Taste a representative sample before you buy large quantities to store. If they don't taste good, pass them by and choose those with more flavor. Red delicious apples improve in storage and develop more sugar. Even so, they shouldn't taste like a colored potato when you purchase them. Rome beauty is another excellent variety that stores well and is a good cooking apple. Jonathans store well but should have a good flavor before they are picked.
Generally, the best container for storing apples is an apple box. Get one with dividers between the apples. That way, if one of the apples develops decay, it won't spoil the whole box or barrel. Apples store for several months if temperatures are kept just above freezing.
Gardeners save a lot of work with a little attention to detail when it comes to storing fruits and vegetables. Common storage saves the fuss, time and expense of home canning or freezing. With many vegetables, it still provides an excellent, high quality product. For your enjoyment, additional information on storing produce or constructing storage facilities is available through the USU Extension Service. "Home Storage of Fruits and Vegetables" may be purchased at our office for $2. Include $2.90 if you would like it sent by mail. The office is at 2001 S. State Street, Room S1200, Salt Lake City, UT 84190-3350.