Most commercial pumpkin production can be found in the northern and central regions of the United States (Pierce, 1987). As urbanization expands into rural areas in the Piedmont and Mountain regions of North Carolina, many consumers of farm products now look to local markets for fresh vegetables and value-added farm products. North Carolina farm markets and retail food chains currently are supplied pumpkins from states other than North Carolina. In North Carolina, local consumer use of pumpkin fruit for both jack-o-lanterns and baking provides a fall market for growers to increase production of this commodity.
In the Mountain region of North Carolina, it is especially challenging to produce a profitable crop as a result of variations in topography and weather conditions during the growing season. Much of the land available for pumpkin production in this region is located on soils classified as highly erodible and may be susceptible to drought during some periods of the growing season. Conditions of low rainfall, poor weed control, and high pest pressures in the southeastern United States can reduce pumpkin yield and profitability (Stanghellini et al., 2003).
In the Midwest region of the United States, vegetable growers commonly grow pumpkins in no-till production systems. No-till pumpkin production may be a solution to reduce soil erosion on land with relatively high slopes commonly available to growers in the Mountain region of North Carolina. The use of cover crop residues for no-till planting protects the soil surface from erosion by absorbing the impact energy of raindrops, thus reducing soil particle detachment (Hoyt et al., 2004). No-till systems, which leave considerable surface residues from small grains, have yielded well when compared with no residue surfaces in no-till pumpkins (Harrelson et al., 2007). The residue from no-till planting also may improve crop yields by increasing soil moisture compared with conventional tillage (Johnson and Hoyt, 1999). Tillage systems leaving 30% residue or more after planting generally increase growing season soil moisture as a result of increased infiltration and decreased evaporation (Johnson and Hoyt, 1999). Growers are reluctant to intensively manage pumpkins under irrigation (Stanghellini et al., 2003). Therefore, no-till production can be especially beneficial in reducing potential water stress associated with dryland vegetable crops (Hoyt, 1999).
Many growers are still reluctant to use no-till production management as a result of lack of equipment and experience with no-till production. Weed control in no-till vegetable production requires surface applications of preemergence or postemergence herbicides for weed control (Hoyt et al., 1996; Hoyt and Monks, 1996). Weed populations in no-till pumpkins have become easier to control with the recent introduction of a surface-applied herbicide that does not require soil incorporation. Selecting appropriate planting dates and fertilization rates are critical for producing high yields of marketable pumpkins.
The objectives of these experiments were to evaluate the yield potential and fruit quality of no-till pumpkins for the Mountain region of North Carolina. The production practices evaluated were nitrogen (N) fertilizer rates and planting dates at three locations. The results of these studies should provide additional information to establish recommendations for optimum no-till pumpkin production in North Carolina.
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