The 411 on Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins

January 12, 2016

Those who are in warm-weather zones or got an early start on their pumpkins indoors or in greenhouses are fast approaching first harvest. Unfortunately, picking pumpkins too early means the fruit will be immature, won’t store well and may be very “off” as far as flavor goes. Here’s the lowdown on when and how to harvest the fruits of your labor.

Determining Whether Your Pumpkins are Mature

Check the Color

Many pumpkin varieties will be uniform in color when mature. However, this is not true of every variety, so check yours to see how deep the color should be and whether it will be uniform, striped or speckled and/or partially green.

Check the Size

Different varieties will grow to different approximate sizes. Note that you may get some fruits that do NOT achieve the expected full size (for a variety of reasons, some fruits simply do not grow to their full capacity) but may still be mature and usable. If you have a smaller-than-expected pumpkin that nevertheless shows other signs of maturity (such as rind hardness and color), it may still be usable provided it has not rotted or been exposed to disease via bruising or cuts.

Test the Hardness of the Rind

A mature pumpkin rind (the outer “skin”) is hard and resists denting when a fingernail is pressed into the shell. Be careful – don’t dig deep. Actually cutting into your pumpkin with your fingernail means you will not be able to store it, and leaving it damaged while still growing on the vine exposes the fruit to rot and plant disease.

Cutting Pumpkins Properly From the Vine

Harvest ALL Fruit Before a Hard Freeze

A light freeze will not damage the fruit (though it will turn the vines brown, a natural occurrence in the life cycle of the pumpkin plant), but a hard freeze will harm your pumpkins. If cold weather and a hard freeze are imminent, cut away as many usable fruits as you can. Fruits that are not quite mature by this time can still be cut up and placed into your compost pile or, in some cases, pickled or stewed.

Handle the Fruit Carefully

When cutting your pumpkins from the vine, BE CAREFUL. Do not bruise, scratch or scrape the fruit. If you do, you will not be able to store the fruit. It may rot and if near other pumpkins, could spread rotting to them as well. If you accidentally damage a pumpkin when harvesting, use it immediately, or discard or place in your compost pile (remove the seeds first).

Leave a Stem

Never cut the stem too close to the fruit. Leave 3-4″ of stem if possible. NEVER pick up a pumpkin by the stem, even if the stem is thick and the fruit is small and lightweight.

Use Pruning Shear

Shears leave a clean cut and reduce the possibility of accidentally cutting into the fruit.

Storing Your Pumpkins

Cure the Fruits

Pumpkins must be cured before storing in order to develop a good, protective rind. If possible, leave your pumpkins for approximately 10 days before storing, at a temperature of at least 70-80F.

Store in a Cool, Dry Area

Pumpkins will last the longest if you store them in a cool area, such as a dry, cool cellar. 55F is ideal; make sure the storage area never gets above 65F.

Don’t Store Your Pumpkins Near Ripening Fruit

As fruit ripens, it releases an ethylene gas which will ruin your pumpkins. Do not store your pumpkins near ripening apples, pears and so on.

Don’t Allow the Fruits to Touch

Leave a bit of space between each pumpkin, and NEVER pile your pumpkins to store them.

Go Pumpkin Picking

Periodically, go through your storage and pick out any decaying fruits. Discard immediately. With proper storage techniques, your pumpkins should remain fresh and usable for up to three months.




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