Busch Gardens sent us a press release and some photos as they get their pumpkin crop ready for "The Dark Side of the Gardens"! Halloween time at Busch Gardens Tampa is just a couple of months away, with the hugely popular Howl-O-Scream event kicking off on September 21st, 2012. Keep reading for more details on how Busch Gardens gets their heirloom pumpkins ready to scare up some fun!
TAMPA, Fla. (July 2012) – As Busch Gardens began preparations earlier this year to
transform the park into "The Dark Side of the Gardens" for its 13th annual
Howl-O-Scream event this fall, the horticulture team realized that they faced a
challenge: It's hard to find heirloom pumpkins and winter squash in Tampa in October.
Their solution? To research seeds and plant their own heirloom pumpkin patch.
Heirloom pumpkins are the antique varieties of fruits and vegetables not normally
found in mainstream produce markets. Heirlooms often feature unusual shapes,
unexpected colors, plus a very flavorful flesh. Busch Gardens' crop of pumpkins is
destined not for pies, however, but for the delight of park guests who will be ready
for the cooler temperatures and Halloween fun that pumpkin season signals.
"Last year was our first try at pumpkin farming which ended in miserable results due
to heavy rains," said Busch Gardens' Director of Horticulture, Joe Parr. "This year,
we started in February with raised beds of rich compost made right here at the park
with zoo and landscaping debris, and are watering with a water-conserving drip
It must be working: The pumpkin experiment has yielded more than 60 fruits so far,
much to the excitement of the proud gardeners who coaxed the vines from seeds by
hand-pollinating the flowers with cotton swabs… and who are now sharing their
office with piles of pumpkins.
Pumpkins are all American members of the squash family and have been cultivated for
more than 5,000 years. When Columbus discovered America, he found the native people
growing a variety of pumpkin which would come to be named Seminole. Busch Gardens'
pumpkin patch features the Seminole, as well as La Estrellas, a tropical pumpkin
hybrid from the University of Florida. Both thrive in Florida's heat and humidity.
Parr's team is also growing Rouge Vif d'Etampes (also known as the "Cinderella
pumpkin",) tiny Jack-Be-Littles, warty, dark-green Marina di Chioggias, the 50- to
60-pound"Big Max," and even a "Pumpkin Tree," which is actually a rare orange
eggplant with tiny, ribbed fruits.
The challenge now will be to keep the ripe fruits looking their best until September
when autumn harvest displays appear in the park for both day guests and
Howl-O-Scream visitors to enjoy. If properly stored, pumpkins can last up to a year
"As the summer temperatures soar," says Parr, "it's nice to think that October's
chill and pumpkins are coming soon."