Heading to a local pumpkin patch to pick the season's best is a time-honored fall family activity. Thanks to University of Georgia researchers, a better, Georgia-specific pumpkin is available for carving or baking.
"Most of the pumpkins traditionally grown commercially in Georgia are Cucurbita pepo types," said George Boyhan, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "They're in the same species as summer squash. And they're highly susceptible to viruses and other foliar diseases."
Even with an aggressive program to control tiny insect pests called aphids, aphid-transmitted viruses can quickly devastate the crop, he said, at times resulting in complete loss.
But Orange Bulldog is not so weak on the vine. The improved variety - developed from germplasm collected in the jungles of South America - has greater levels of resistance to viruses than conventional pumpkins.
When Boyhan and retired CAES horticulturists Gerard Krewer and Darbie Granberry began working with the jungle seed, they discovered long, flat pumpkins, or ones not easily carved into jack-o'-lanterns.
The team worked to develop a more disease-resistant variety with a good jack-o'-lantern shape that's adapted to Georgia's climate. Orange Bulldog debuted in 2004.
"The goal of the variety was to produce a pumpkin with higher levels of disease resistance," he said. "So, it lends itself to organic farming where herbicides and fungicides are limited to a few organic compounds." Organic seeds for Orange Bulldog will be available for next year's crop.
The pumpkin variety has a considerable amount of variability, something shoppers at roadside stands and pick-your-own farms find appealing.
"People really like the variation of the pumpkin, they can use it for variety in decorating," said Raymond Joyce, the UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator in Laurens County. Joyce said he was surprised to see how well the pumpkin did in the field. It was grown without irrigation and had to be sprayed only once with a fungicide and then once with a herbicide.
Apart from looking good, Orange Bulldog tastes good, too. In its immature state, it is bright yellow and can be prepared and eaten like summer squash. It's particularly good sautéed with Vidalia onions, Boyhan said. The meat of a mature pumpkin can be cubed and cooked to make pumpkin pie filling.