How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins
Is my pumpkin ripe?
If you are wondering if your pumpkin ready to pick then read one for all you need to know.
What colour is a ripe pumpkin? The answer is usually orange but they can come in shades or grey, blue or white and some are even stripey. But generally colour is a pretty good indicator - if it is orange all the way round then it is pretty likely to be ripe. However, it you've grown something a bit different then it is important to hold on to the seed packet so you know what colour to expect. Whatever colour it is there are other ways to check if your pumpkin is ripe though.
- The Rind - the pumpkin skin (known as rind) will be hard if the pumpkin is ripe. To test its readiness try to pierce the skin with your fingernail. It should be strong enough to resist puncture so if the skin dents but doesn’t puncture, the pumpkin is ready to pick.
- The Sound - a ripe pumpkin will sound hollow. So try tapping it. Listen for a hollow sound and that will tell you that it is ripe.
- The Stem - when the stem above the pumpkin becomes hard this is another indicator that your pumpkin is ripe.
How to harvest Pumpkins & Squashes
Harvesting correctly is important if you want to store the pumpkin for later use. There are some key steps.
- Try and harvest when the pumpkin is ripe. Pumpkins harvested too early will still ripen but are more prone to rot. You may want to harvest early if there is a chance of frost but otherwise try and leave them until they are ripe
- Pick a dry day - pumpkins harvested when wet are again more likely to rot.
- Use a sharp knife so you do not leave a jagged cut on the stem. A jagged cut will allow disease to get into your pumpkin which could cause it to rot.
- Leave at least several inches of stem attached to the pumpkin. Again to prevent disease. Do not use the stem as a carrying handle as once the stem is damaged the pumpkin will be likely to rot.
- Clean the pumpkin - after you harvest the pumpkin, wipe it down with a 10 percent bleach solution to kill any organisms on the skin. You might want to rinse it before eating but the bleach solution will evaporate in a few hours so will not be harmful.
- Leave it to 'cure' for around 10 days in the sun or near an indoor heat source if the weather isn't great. This will harden the skin for better storage.
- Store in a cool dark place out of direct sunlight. Pumpkins will continue to ripen once off the vine (see section below) so if yours is already ripe it needs to be out of the sun. For smaller pumpkins and squashes a breathable jute sack like these Vegetable Sacks is ideal - it can be hung somewhere cool so they don't get in the way.
Will a pumpkin ripen once picked?
If you wondered, do pumpkins ripen after picking? Then the answer is Yes. If your pumpkins are still green, there are a few things you can do to ripen them. Especially useful if you want them nice and orange for Halloween.
What do I do if my pumpkin ripens too early?
If you have particularly good weather then you may find the pumpkins you are growing for Halloween ripen too early. If you find yourself with pumpkins ripening in July or with lovely ripe orange pumpkins in August don't worry. Just follow the 7 'How to Harvest Pumpkins' steps above then they will store for 3 months and be fine for carving or eating.
Pumpkin Ripening Ins and Outs
The speed a pumpkin ripens at - both on and off the vine - depends on the temperature and the amount of sun it gets. Its fairly logical: quicker when its warm and the sun is out and slower when it is cold and dull.
So even after pumpkins are picked they need as much sun as possible. The best place to put them is an open space facing South.
Make sure the pumpkins are kept free from dust and dirt by wiping them occasionally. You don't want anything blocking the suns rays, especially if those are few and far between.
Make sure that the sun gets to the whole pumpkin by rotating them every day.
The Right Temperature for ripening pumpkins
Another problem with ripening pumpkins is the weather. Temperature drops will cause ripening to slow. If possible, move your pumpkins inside the house on nights when temperatures drop below freezing. Returning them back outside if the weather is set to be sunny. Or, if there is no sign of good weather store the pumpkins inside in a warm, airy room with large windows and plenty of direct sunlight. This way the pumpkin will continue to ripen.
How to Store Pumpkins
The best storage temperature is a cool 10-12° C (50-55° F) A healthy, disease free pumpkin can be stored for 8 to 12 weeks.
The best way to store smaller pumpkins and squashes is in a breathable jute sack like these Vegetable Sacks. also perfect for storing potatoes, beetroot, parsnips and other root vegetables.
Your traditional Halloween Jack-o-lanterns don't last as long though. Possibly due to the size but you are looking at a week to 10 days for these. As an aside, if you are carving and not eating them then giving them another 2 minute soak in bleach solution once carved will also prolong your art work over Halloween. For further info on growing pumpkins check out this blog The best Way to Grow Pumpkins
Oh and before you go, if you are looking for something to do with your pumpkin seeds check out this post What to do with Pumpkin seeds
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