University of Illinois Extension


Barbara Larson,
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Boone & Winnebago Counties

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Pumpkins and Cranberries

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without pumpkins and cranberries, two major horticultural products of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Ninety percent of the pumpkins produced in the United States are grown in a 60 to 90 mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. The vast majority of pumpkin is processed into canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie mix that we buy at the supermarket.

Pumpkins and winter squash are so closely related that they are often grouped together botanically. These vine crops grow best in warm well-drained soils. Farmers contract yearly with the pumpkin processing companies for the crop. Processing pumpkins don’t look like the typical jack-o-lantern pumpkin. They are about the size and shape of a watermelon with a pale creamy orange shell. The interior flesh is the deep orange we expect in canned pumpkin.

Harvest begins in middle August and continues through November. Harvesting is a two step process. First the pumpkins are pushed into rows with a machine that works like a modified snowplow. Then a mechanical harvester picks up the fruit and throws it into the top of a semi-tractor trainer. Amazingly the pumpkins rarely break.

At the processing plant top quality pumpkins are selected as future seed stock. The rest are washed, mashed, and cooked to produce the main ingredient for our holiday deserts.

The cranberry is a native North American fruit cultivated in the United States and Canada. The principal areas of production are Massachusetts on Cape Cod, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington and Nova Scotia. Wisconsin is the second largest producer of cranberries, but their fruits are not as bright red as Massachusetts’s berries.

Cranberries grow wild on acid-peat soils, usually underlain by sand, with clay hardpan underneath. These areas frequently flood in winter. In addition to wild cranberries, native plants in these sites are sphagnum moss, leatherleaf, sheep laurel, red maple and white cedar.

The development of a cranberry field, or bog, as it is often called, is very expensive. Much capital, knowledge, and experience are required to construct and bring a field to bearing age. Besides specialized soil requirements, an adequate water supply is necessary for flooding the fields at intervals to control insects and to protect the plants from frost.

In autumn the bogs are flooded for harvest. Cranberry scoops rake the berries from the vines along with pieces of vines and leaves. The floating berries are gathered from the water for sorting. If you go north for the colors in autumn, you might want to visit the Wisconsin Rapids area to see the cranberry harvest.

The berries are cleaned by putting them through a separator to blow off the chaff, then moved along a belt where they are hand-sorted by workers who remove defective berries.

The cranberry growers are well organized and market the crop cooperatively. Nearly half of the crop is processed.

When you sit down to this year’s Thanksgiving feast you might want to remember the good things Illinois and Wisconsin producers added to your meal.


October - November 2000: Recycling Leaves in the Yard | Fall Garden Wrap-Up Checklist | Preparing Lawns for Winter | Pumpkins and Cranberries

Past Issues

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