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Heat spurs unusual pumpkin tricks in August

PULLMAN, WASH. – Something spooky is in the pumpkin patch and it has nothing to do with frost.

It’s only mid-August and pumpkins – an endearing symbol of autumn and Halloween—are orange and plump in a field at Washington State University. Not only did the orbs tolerate the summer’s record-breaking heat, they thrived on it, said Brad Jaeckel, who manages the Eggert Family Organic Farm on campus.

Pumpkins at the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm. (Photo by Linda Weiford, WSU News)
Pumpkins at the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm. (Photo by Linda Weiford, WSU News)

“I’ve never seen such ripe pumpkins in August. I’d say they’re three weeks ahead of schedule – and we even planted them late,” he said.

Meaning that, on a swath of green, hearty pumpkins peer out from beneath a jungle of leaves and vines. Among them are the reddish-orange variety that resembles Cinderella’s coach and the good old jack-o-lantern orange.

While hot temperatures spurred crops such as tomatoes and zucchini to ripen early, “we expected that because they’re summer crops,” Jaeckel said. “But pumpkins? When it comes to harvesting, they’re synonymous with fall.”

So as air conditioners hum, summer vacations wind down and kids splash in lakes and pools, it’s hard to envision pumpkins smirking on door steps, adorning tables and pureed in pie shells. The big question is, will they remain robust and colorful until the air is crisp and people are ready to haul them home?

Fortunately, the premature ripening of this autumn celebrity doesn’t put it at risk of rotting before the organic farm’s annual U-Pick Fall Harvest Celebration on Oct. 3, said Jaeckel.

“As long as the pumpkins are attached to the vine, they’ll do fine,” he said. “They’ll keep growing and the plants will grow more fruit. Barring an early frost, chances are we’ll have a bumper crop by October.”

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