Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins

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, cured, and stored properly.  Immature fruit are poor quality and cannot be successfully stored.  Mature fruit that have been removed from the vine are still alive.  Proper curing and storage slows the rate of respiration and prolongs the storage life of the fruit. 

Harvest pumpkins when they have developed a uniform orange color and have a hard rind.  Harvest all mature pumpkins before a hard freeze.  A light frost will destroy the vines but should not harm the fruit.  However, a hard freeze may damage the fruit. 

When harvesting pumpkins, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises.  These injuries are not only unsightly, they provide entrances for various rot-producing organisms.  Cut off the fruit with a pruning or lopping shears.  Leave a 3- to 4-inch handle on the pumpkins.  A pumpkin with a 3-to 4-inch handle is more attractive.  Also, pumpkins are less likely to rot when they are harvested with a portion of the stem attached to the fruit.  Do not carry the fruit by their stems or handles.  The stems may not be able to support the weight of the fruit and they may break off. 

After harvesting, cure the pumpkins at a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 80 to 85 percent.  Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches. 

After curing, store pumpkins in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location.  Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Do not store pumpkins near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit.  Ripening fruit release ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins.  Place the pumpkins 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 pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit.  Periodically check pumpkins in storage and discard any fruit which show signs of decay.  Properly cured and stored pumpkins should remain in good condition for 2 to 3 months.

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