Pumpkins are one of the fun crops in the vegetable garden. Pumpkins make delicious pies and other desserts. The fruit can also be painted, carved into jack-o-lanterns, and used in fall decorations. To insure a long life, pumpkins must be harvested and stored properly.
Pumpkins can be harvested when they have developed a deep, uniform orange color and the rind is hard. Pumpkins can remain in the garden through a light, vine-killing frost. A light frost will not damage the pumpkins themselves. However, all mature pumpkins should be harvested before temperatures drop into the mid to low 20's. Green, immature pumpkins will not turn orange after a killing frost.
When harvesting pumpkins, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. Cut the pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pair of lopping shears. Leave several inches of stem attached to each fruit. A pumpkin with a 3 to 5 inch stem or handle is more attractive. Also, pumpkins with stems are less likely to rot. Do not carry pumpkins by their stems. The stems may not be able to support the weight of the pumpkins and may break off.
After harvesting the pumpkins, cure them at a temperature of 80 to 85 F and 80 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches.
After curing, store the pumpkins in a cool, dry place. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 F. When storing pumpkins, place them in a single layer where they don't touch one another. Good air circulation helps to prevent moisture from forming on the surfaces of the fruit and retards the growth of decay fungi and bacteria. Placing the pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit. Promptly remove and discard any pumpkins that show signs of decay.
Pumpkins that are properly harvested, cured, and stored should be in excellent condition for Halloween painting or carving in late October.
This article originally appeared in the September 12, 1997 issue, p. 136.