Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Here's a fun fact to share this holiday season-- statistics from the University of Illinois show that 90 percent of the pumpkins commercially produced in the entire United States are grown within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. These aren't your average pumpkins–they are primarily grown for processing into canned pumpkin.
Processing pumpkins are typically the size and shape of a watermelon, with a light orange shell, weighing about 20 pounds. One variety is Dickenson, the preferred variety used by the Libby's® pumpkin processing plant, owned by Nestlé Food Company, located in Morton, Illinois, just outside of Peoria. Morton has proclaimed itself the Pumpkin Capital of the World, with good reason–the Libby's® plant reportedly processes up to 150,000 tons of pumpkins each year, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. In terms of pumpkin pie, this is enough pumpkin to bake 90 million pies!
The world of pumpkins is full of diversity. Pumpkin varieties can range in size from less than one pound to well over 1,000 pounds. More familiar pumpkins are the jack-o-lantern types grown for fall and Halloween decorations, which generally range in size from 10 to 25 pounds. Pumpkins larger than 25 pounds are in the "giant" category.
I was lucky enough to visit with a gardener in California last year whose hobby was growing giant pumpkins. About half of his backyard was filled with pumpkin vines, all carefully protected from insects and sunburn with hoop houses covered with row cover cloth. Sounds extreme, but this gardener was protecting a summer long investment that had paid off in the past. Using the same methods, he had previously produced prize-winning pumpkins topping the scales in excess of 1,000 pounds!
For more information and fun facts about pumpkins, visit the University of Illinois Extension "Pumpkins and More" website at http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/index.html.