Growing giant pumpkins

I took my 8-year-old to a pumpkin show over the weekend and we saw giant, near record-sized pumpkins on display. Now my son wants to grow giant pumpkins like that in our backyard. Is that possible?

Giant pumpkin. Photo: Getty Images.

Well, with the right seed, using the proper growing techniques in the right conditions, maybe.

Even first-time growers are capable of growing pumpkins in excess of 400 pounds if the seeds you choose to plant are the Atlantic Giant variety, which are available at numerous garden centers and catalogs, according to Mike Estadt, educator, Ohio State University Extension.

“To grow pumpkins in excess of half a ton, it all begins with superior genetics,” Estadt wrote in Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden, a new Ohioline fact sheet.

Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Generally speaking, some of the other things to consider when growing pumpkins in your backyard, Estadt says, include the following.

  • Site selection and planting: Each pumpkin plant should be allowed 1,000 square feet of growing space in an area that has several hours of daily sunlight and access to water, considering that pumpkins require large amounts of water.
  • Fertilizer and lime: When planting, you’ll need to have the soil tested to determine whether lime and fertilizers are needed based on your soil requirements.
  • Planting and space requirements: The pumpkin seeds should be planted individually in 12-inch peat pots indoors in April and can be transferred to the ground when the first true leaf is fully expanded, typically 10–14 days after seeding. Once planted outside, they can be protected from frost using row covers, or a small greenhouse.
  • Irrigation: Pumpkins have shallow roots, so they will need to be watered slowly with at least 1 inch of water per week if your area doesn’t experience an adequate amount of rainfall.
  • Insects and diseases: An insect and disease control program should be initiated when you transplant the pumpkin plants from the pots to the ground. This is because once a bacterial or viral infection has occurred, there is no way to stop it. And several pests are attracted to pumpkins, including striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vie borer.
  • Pollination: While hand pollination is the preferred method to fruit-setting, natural pollination by honey bees, squash bees, and bumble bees will also work well.
  • Shade: Once the pumpkins get to a certain size, they need to be protected from direct sunlight. For example, you can use a bedsheet draped over the pumpkin, leaving the stem exposed.

If you do choose to grow pumpkins, you’ll be in good company here in Ohio. The Buckeye State is one of the top producers of the large, carving type of pumpkins, usually ranking between third or fourth among states for pumpkin production, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, with more that 66 million pounds of pumpkin produced statewide last year.

And, from a nutritional standpoint, pumpkins are an excellent, healthy food because they are low in calories, are full of potassium and antioxidants, and the seeds make excellently nutritious and tasty snacks.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Mike Estadt, educator, OSU Extension.

Slow cooker safety

I put a roast on to cook in my slow cooker and went to work. When I got home, I realized that the power had gone out at my house at some point during the day. I checked my slow cooker and the power was off, but my roast looked like it cooked fully. Can I still eat the roast?

Photo: Getty Images

Great question! However, I’m sorry to say that unless you are able to tell how long the roast was in the slow cooker without adequate heat, it’s best that you toss it out, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two hours or more will need to be discarded to avoid the development of harmful bacteria that could cause a foodborne illness. This is because food that isn’t maintained at proper temperatures can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

As the name indicates, a slow cooker cook foods slowly at a low temperature—generally between 170 and 280 degrees. It works by using the direct heat from the pot and the steam created from tightly covering the pot over a period of time to destroy bacteria, making the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods, according to the USDA.

“While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating,” the USDA says.

But, if the power to the slow cooker goes out and you aren’t there to know how long the cooker was without power, how long the food had cooked before the power went out, or how long the food might have sat in the danger zone, bacteria could have begun to develop on the food.

So, in your case, even if the roast looks done, the USDA says it shouldn’t be eaten.

The USDA also advises the following when using a slow cooker:

  • Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker might take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a “head start” during the first few hours of cooking.
  • If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time, if preparation time is limited.

Lastly, while it’s OK to use a slow cooker to keep foods warm, it’s not recommended that you reheat leftovers in a crock pot. This is because it takes too long for the leftovers to reheat to a safe temperature, creating a perfect space for harmful bacteria to form.

As such, the USDA says it’s best to reheat food on a stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until the food reaches a temperature of 165 degrees. At that point, you can then place the food in the slow cooker to keep it hot, at 140 degrees or higher.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu. 

Editor: This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Pawpaws making a comeback in Ohio, other markets

What is a pawpaw, and is it healthy for you?

The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit that is native to the United States, grown indigenous in some 26 states nationwide including Ohio. The majority of pawpaws are grown from the Great Lakes to the Florida Panhandle, with mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states being the primary growing region. Grown on trees, pawpaws ripen in the fall and are generally harvested from late August to mid-October.

Not to be confused with papayas, the skin color of ripe pawpaws can range from green to brown or black on the outside and is yellow on the inside, with a ripe pawpaw about the size of a large potato. The meat of the fruit, which is soft and mushy like an avocado, has been described as tasting a little like a rich, custardy tropical blend of banana, mango, and pineapple, according to Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, (CFAES).

Pawpaws are a very healthy option, as they are naturally high in vitamins C and B-6, and are great sources of magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They’re also are a good source of potassium, and they contain significant amounts of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.

Although pawpaws are native to Ohio and were once a key part of the diet of Native Americans, now they’re not typically found in grocery stores. But the fruit is gaining in popularity as part of the healthy food movement and can sometimes be found at farmers markets. Pawpaws can be cultivated and can also be found growing wild in pawpaw patches in woodlands across Ohio and other states.

Because of the resurgence in consumer interest in pawpaws, CFAES researchers including Bergefurd see pawpaw’s potential as a crop for Ohio farmers and have established research studies to help proliferate the fruit into more consumer markets.

Those studies include, the Marketing and Orchard Resource Efficiency (MORE) Ohio Pawpaw, which began in 2016 and is offering farmers and nurseries the know-how to establish productive pawpaw orchards and find markets for their fruit; and the Improved Pawpaw Cultural and Post-harvest Practices Enhancing Orchard Establishment, Productivity, Fruit Quality and Marketability study.

“Though the demand for fresh and processed pawpaw is strong, the supply is limited in Ohio because prospective growers don’t know enough about either growing or selling the product to invest in trying,” Bergefurd said in recent CFAES story. “We want to provide unbiased research-based information so farmers can make the best management decisions and maybe cash in on this crop.

“Right now, the market is there. As long as the farmer does a good job in establishing markets, the potential is there.”

Pawpaws can be eaten by slicing the fruit open and removing the large, oval-shaped black seeds. They can also be made into breads, pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, puddings, jam, butter, salsa, ice cream, and for a growing list of microbrewers, into craft beers.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Brad Bergefurd, a horticulture specialist with OSU Extension.

Alternatives to sugar

I want to lower my sugar intake, so I’m looking for a sugar substitute for my coffee. What are the different types of sweeteners?

Photo: Getty Images.

First, I want to congratulate you on your decision to lower your sugar intake. Lowering your sugar intake is a wise and healthy choice, as research shows that consuming too much sugar can increase your risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.

If you want to lower your sugar intake from your coffee to zero, you could choose to drink it black.

But, if you’d rather not do that, you aren’t alone. Some two-thirds of coffee drinkers and one-third of tea drinkers add milk, cream, sugar, flavorings, or other additives to their drink, according to a study from the University of Illinois. Interestingly, the study found that more than 60% of the calories in those coffee drinkers’ beverages came from added sugar.

That’s not surprising, considering that it’s part of human nature to crave the sweet taste of sugar, writes Jenny Lobb, an educator in family and consumer sciences for Ohio State University Extension.

But, “the World Health Organization recommends consuming no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugar,” Lobb wrote in All Things Sweet: Sugar and Other Sweeteners, an Ohioline fact sheet. “For someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, 10% of daily calories would be 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugar a day.”

Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

With that in mind, it’s important to understand what sweeteners are.

“Sweeteners are classified in two different groups: nutritive sweeteners, also called caloric sweeteners or sugars, and non-nutritive sweeteners, which are also called sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners,” Lobb said.

Nutritive sweeteners include agave, brown sugar, powdered (confectioners’) sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt sugar, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectars, raw sugar, and syrup, she wrote.

Non-nutritive sweeteners are sugar substitutes that can be either naturally occurring or artificially made. Naturally occurring sugar substitutes include stevia and sugar alcohols, which include, among others, erythritol, used as a bulk sweetener in low-calorie foods, and sorbitol, used in some sugar-free candies, gums, frozen desserts, and baked goods, Lobb wrote.

“Artificial sweeteners are man-made sweeteners that contain no calories or sugar,” she wrote. “Currently, there are six different artificial sweeteners that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has thoroughly tested and approved for use.”

Those, Lobb said, include:

  • acesulfame-K, sold under the brand names of Sunett, Sweet One, and others
  • advantame
  • aspartame, sold under the brand names of Equal and Nutrasweet
  • neotame
  • saccharin, sold under the brand names of Sweet’N Low, Necta Sweet, and others
  • sucralose, sold under the brand name of Splenda

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.