Some pumpkins are born warty; others achieve it.
Some seed companies market to growers who specifically want warty pumpkins, but Utah farmers are agriculturally trendy this year because of a virus.
Disease-carrying aphids caused many local pumpkins to develop warts and green stripes, said James Barnhill, Utah State University agricultural extension agent for Weber and Morgan counties.
“These viruses are generally vectored by insects,” he said.
More exactly, the alfalfa aphid carried the watermelon mosaic virus that infected the pumpkins, Barnhill said.
Some warts are small, others the size of a quarter. Some pumpkins have a few warts; others are covered with them.
“The breeders have come up with new pumpkins,” Barnhill said.
“There’s white ones with netting on the outside, gourds that come up with all shapes and patterns. The market for pumpkins and ornamental things over the years has increased.”
For those who must know, an Ohio State University agricultural website states that a pumpkin is a fruit called a pepo, which is any fleshy fruit with a hard rind and many seeds. Pumpkin carvers cut the part of the rind called the “mesocarp.” The part where the seeds and slime are found is the “endocarp.”
“Pumpkins and the squash cross easily,” Barnhill said. “If you’re growing them (pumpkins) next to a squash, you can get all kinds of shapes. If a zucchini crosses with a pumpkin, you might get a green pumpkin or an orange zucchini.”
Some years, farmers plow the pumpkins under because prices are so low, he said.
Things are looking good so far this year, but no one knows how well the season will be until the harvest is over.
Not that the farmers get any benefit from the Halloween trend. Most farmers sell pumpkins in bulk, so the virus reduced the pumpkin harvest while pumpkin prices stayed the same, said Tom Favero, a Taylor farmer who has 40 acres planted with pumpkins and another 40 acres with squash.
“The aphid got into the alfalfa,” he said. “When we cut the second crop, it jumped out and got into the squash. We ended up with some weird stuff.”
Hot, dry weather made the aphid problem worse this year, but the watermelon mosaic virus was a surprise.
“We knew we had the problem early on,” Favero said. “We called the extension agent right away, but by the time we knew what we had, there was nothing we could use to cure it. We live on a very fragile planet that no one understands.”
Wasatch Front farmers are just starting to grow the new pumpkin varieties.
Favero said he likes to be on the “cutting edge” but faces a conservative climate. Growing is not the same as selling.
“We just barely started growing them a couple years ago,” Kevin Stratford, a Wilson farmer, said about the specialty pumpkins.
“The majority are still orange,” he said. “There’s white ones, red ones, tan ones, striped-colored ones, some with warts. Howden is the old standby everyone grows.”
While Favero said he has no trouble with cross-pollination, pumpkin love elsewhere is more tempestuous.
A pumpkin crossed with a spaghetti squash in the garden of Ogden resident Joan Hadley, and the plant presented her and her husband, Dave, with a pale, pear-shaped pumpkin.
Another pumpkin crossed with what Andrew Allred, a West Weber farmer, believes was a delicata squash.
His theory is that some pumpkin cross-pollinated with something somewhere and his calf ate the seeds. When the seeds sprouted from the compost heap, he ended up with lemon-yellow pumpkins with orange ribs.
“They have a pumpkin feel to them,” he said. “They sound hollow like a pumpkin when you thump them.”
As far as some growers are concerned, weird pumpkins are outstanding in their field.
Taylor Chriss, of Brigham City, is proud of his peanut pumpkin, a flesh-colored fruit covered with a raised white webbing.
The webbing is “like a flower,” he said.
“These are a special variety,” Chriss said. “The longer you keep them on the stem, the more (webbing) they get.”
Another new beauty gracing Tagge’s Famous Fruit is the glossy green Frankenstein pumpkin.
Big Stem, a pumpkin with a stem thicker than a baby’s arm, is popular because everyone likes that handle, Chriss said.
If someone wants a deliberate cross to see what will happen, Barnhill recommends pollinating the female pumpkin blossom — the female can be identified because there is a round part near the stem — early in the morning, then closing up the flower with a rubber band or covering it with a paper bag so it won’t cross with anything else.
A grower should label the plant to remember the cross.
However, Barnhill said, there is no guarantee the resulting fruit will taste good.