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SIU professor develops heat-tolerant pumpkins

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 8:02 PM CDT
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SOUTHERN Ill. (KFVS) - Pumpkin season is almost over, but one Southern Illinois University professor has a lot more work ahead of him to grow pumpkins that thrive in hot climates.

Dr. Alan Walters is working to develop heat tolerant pumpkins so they can grow bigger in southern Illinois.

By the end of the process, he should be left with several 15-to-25-pound pumpkins all the same shape.

”Here in southern Illinois, the pumpkins we grow tend to be much smaller in size,” Dr. Alan Walters said.

SIU Horticulture and Vegetable Science Professor Alan Walters is researching how to grow bigger pumpkins that can survive the heat because he said the temperature impacts the size.

“They really like cooler weather, 75 to 85 degrees they grow a lot better and once we get above that 90 degree threshold, they lose their biomass.”

That’s why he said it can be challenging to grow bigger pumpkins in the heat.

“Most of the market is about 15-25 pounds in size for a jack o lantern and that’s what we’re working on is trying to get that size up to where we can match those that are produced in other areas of the country,” he said.

Walters is about 5 years into the process, and he still has more to go until he gets pumpkins all the same shape and size, instead of a variety of different sizes.

He takes two different pumpkin lines and crosses them get those results.

When he gets the results he wants, he plans to help out other pumpkin farmers around the country.

“I’ve had calls from a lot of different people who are interested,” he said.

When it comes to whole sale, he says size is important.

“They want the whole size, jack o lantern full size,” he said.

Even though Walters’ goal is to grow bigger pumpkins, local pumpkin patch owner Troy Bandy said his customers like the variety.

“Everybody wants something different, some people want giant 80 pound pumpkins, some people want the small little 3 or 4 ounce pumpkins,” Bandy said.

No matter the size, Walters will still get his pumpkins out to those who want them.

“You see almost all your neighbors have something out as a decoration this time of year and pumpkins are just part of that,” Walters said.

Walters said he expects to see bigger pumpkins on the farm in the next 2 to 4 years.

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