Pumpkins make a great beginner gardener crop as they’re easy to grow, and prolific producers when given enough space to sprawl. They make a great choice for a parkway or devil’s strip where you may want to suppress weeds, but not invest a lot of time tending to the landscape. They can also be planted on the edge of the garden or corner of a raised bed and allowed to trail over the side freely. Harvesting pumpkins is fun too!
Although growing pumpkins may be easy, there are a few things to know when you harvest pumpkins to make sure that you get the most out of your crop. When choosing the variety you want to grow keep in mind that there are many different types of pumpkins ranging from pie pumpkins, jack o lanterns, miniature pumpkins like Jack Be Little, and even types that can grow to weigh over 100 pounds such as Big Max.
When To Harvest Pumpkins
Once you’ve chosen which variety of pumpkin to grow it’s important to check the seed packet for specific info on its mature size, color, and days to harvest. Aside from those specific indicators that depend on variety and type, there are a few general rules of thumb to follow for all pumpkins. From the time you harvest pumpkins, to the time you cure pumpkins, there are some gardening tips you can follow.
Several different stages of pumpkin growth occur before the time to pick pumpkins. Generally speaking, pumpkins are ready to harvest with a sharp knife in about 90-120 days. About halfway to maturity, the plant will begin to flower. Their large yellow squash blossoms resemble those of zucchini, butternut, acorn squash, and other members of the Cucurbita pepo family. These squash blossoms are also edible. Like the other members of this family, pumpkins have separate male and female flowers. The pollen from the male flower must be moved to a female flower for the fruit set to occur. After successful pollination, you will see tiny pumpkins begin to swell at the base of the female flower. They usually start green and then slowly ripen to their final color.
You’ll know your pumpkin harvest is close when the vines begin to die back in the garden. As mentioned above, be mindful of the days to harvest the variety you chose, and if this aligns with the signs of the vines dying back, usually the end of summer or early fall, then your winter squash is just about ready to be picked. Regardless of the ripeness of your pumpkins, you’ll want to be sure to harvest them before the first frost, whether that occurs in fall or early winter. Although they are referred to as winter squash, they cannot tolerate a hard frost. The vines will die, and the fruit can rot in the garden if you expose your plants to heavy frost.
In addition to the pumpkin vine dying back, you will also notice that the stem that attaches the pumpkin to the vine will begin to turn from green to brown. A brown woody stem on your vines is a good visual indicator that your pumpkin fruits are almost ready.
If you look into gardening tips concerning harvested pumpkin fruit, you’ll probably learn about testing the skins. The fingernail test is a less scientific approach to test the readiness of your pumpkin. The outer rind of the pumpkin will become hard as it ripens. If you press your fingernail into the rind and it barely leaves a mark then this is a sign that the rind is beginning to harden and the fruit is almost ready to be harvested. A hard rind is what differentiates winter squash from summer squash and allows them to be stored for longer periods of time without rotting.
Pumpkins come in many different colors ranging from shades of green, white, yellow, red, blue, and most recognizably orange. They can even be spotted or solid colored. Fully ripe pumpkins will slowly turn from green to their mature color which will depend on what variety you’ve selected. Check the vines in your garden to see if the fruit have changed to their mature color, whether that be orange, white, or multicolored.
As with color, the size of a mature pumpkin will depend on its variety. Sugar pie pumpkins, which are used for baking (most notably in pumpkin pie), are usually the smaller size. While on the other end of the spectrum, some varieties can grow to weigh 100s of pounds. The largest pumpkin on record weighed in at 2703 pounds! Depending on the variety, once the pumpkin has reached the desired size and is fully colored, then it’s time to move on to picking pumpkins. Then you can break the stems where the vines are planted and take them from the garden to become cured pumpkins.
How To Harvest Pumpkins
On a day with full sun at the end of the season, once the above criteria have been met, it’s time to harvest the fruits of your labor. Picking pumpkins and pumpkin harvesting on a sunny and dry day will help reduce the chance of molds and mildews affecting your harvest. As mentioned above, be sure to pick pumpkins before the first hard frost as this may damage them and prevent them from being stored long term. Handle pumpkins with care to avoid damaging the skin, stem, and outer rind.
Keep The Stem
When harvesting, it is important to keep the stem attached. The stems prolong the shelf life of your pumpkins. When the stem is removed it creates an entrance point for insect pests and rot. Use a sharp knife or pruning sheers to remove the pumpkin from the vine. Leave at least 4 inches of stem intact. Never pull the pumpkin from the vine by hand as this can cause damage to the vine and you may still have unripe pumpkins on the other end of it. Pumpkins will not continue to ripen once removed from the vine. Always carry pumpkins by the base and never by the stems.
Properly cured pumpkins can keep at room temperature for months. To cure your pumpkins as soon as they have been removed from the vine, place them in a dry and sun-filled spot for 7-14 days to allow the skin to harden and cure. As an extra layer of protection, some gardeners suggest wiping your winter squash down with a diluted mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water to further prevent any pest or diseases from spoiling your harvest, although this is optional. Once they have been cured, they can be stored in a cool and dry place with good air circulation that is out of direct sunlight, like a shed, root cellar, etc. Now that we’ve covered how to cure pumpkin let’s discuss some more tips about how to keep the fruit once they are removed from the garden.
How To Store Pumpkins
If you choose to grow pumpkins in your garden, you’ll be rewarded at the end of the season with a harvest of food and decorations. It’s important to know how to store them to get the most out of your harvest. The storage method will also depend on what you choose to do with your pumpkins once they’re moved from the garden on a sunny day. Pumpkins that show any damage to the skin or rind should be eaten immediately and not selected for long-term storage. How long do pumpkins last? Let’s talk about it!
The easiest way to store pumpkins is in the refrigerator. Pumpkins that are going to be consumed within a month do best in the cold of the refrigerator. They do not need to be cured before storing this way. However, curing them will also improve their longevity in the refrigerator. Store the fruit in the back where the temperature is the cold.
Storing pumpkins at room temperature is a little trickier. If you choose to store pumpkins this way they will need to be cured first after they’re taken from the garden. Then they can be stored in an area like a root cellar, shed, basement, or another dry place that has good air circulation and even cool temperatures. Be sure to store the fruit in a single layer. Stacking pumpkins can cause damage to the skin and stem, which can cause them to rot. This is the best storage method for pumpkins that you wish to use for fall decorations at Halloween.
This is the best solution for long-term fruit storage if you wish to store your pumpkins for several different culinary uses. Pumpkins can be roasted, pureed, and then frozen for future use for baking pies, bread, muffins, cakes, etc. The seeds can be removed, roasted, and kept in an airtight container. They can also be cut up into little orange cubes and frozen for future use in soups and stews. Frozen pumpkin can technically last indefinitely, although it will taste best when consumed within a year. Any longer than that, and you risk freezer burn and a loss of texture.
Dehydrating pumpkin is a good option if you’re interested in utilizing pumpkin powder straight from the garden. You can dehydrate pumpkin slices and then blend them into a powder using a spice grinder or coffee grinder. This powder can also be used in baking and in soups to add a pumpkin flavor. Toss some roasted seeds on top, and you’re set. Even better than that, dehydrated pumpkin slices make a great treat for dogs! The pumpkin fiber is known to help with digestion.
Freeze-drying is the ultimate long-term storage option, and while freeze dryers aren’t cheap, they can be worth the investment if you have a large harvest that you wish to preserve for a long period without taking up a lot of space. You can freeze-dry cut cubes of fall pumpkins that can be stored in mylar bags and will rehydrate by being thrown directly into a soup. The freeze-drier also allows the flexibility of being able to freeze-dry many more forms of food from your garden than you would be able to preserve with a dehydrator. It’s even possible to freeze-dry cut-up pieces of pumpkin pie for delicious pumpkin pie bites.
No matter which way you choose to store or utilize your pumpkins, don’t let those seeds go to waste! Scoop out the insides of your pumpkins, rinse the pulp away from the seeds, lightly salt and roast them for a delicious snack!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can you tell when pumpkins are ready to pick?
A: Research the mature size, color, and days to harvest for the variety that you have selected for your garden. These indicators, alongside the die back of the vine and the appearance of a woody brown stem, means that your pumpkin is ready to pick from the plants. Make sure you do this on a day when the sun is bright.
Q: Can you leave pumpkins on the vine too long?
A: Yes, if left on the vine for too long they can rot. The flowers, vine tips, and fruit can also be damaged by frost. Cut them from the plant at the right time and you’re gold.
Q: Should pumpkins be picked as soon as they turn orange?
A: Yes, once they are fully colored and show other signs of being ripe such as passing the fingernail test. Remember, a pumpkin grows for about 90 to 120 days. After then it can be cut from the plant.
Q: What to do after harvesting pumpkins?
A: Curing them is a great first step. While they cure for 7-14 days, you’ll have plenty of time to decide how to eat them and/or store them long term. You’ll also have time to decide what to do with the rest of the pumpkin plant in your garden.
Q: How long will a pumpkin last after being picked?
A: Once properly cured they can be stored for several months. Freezing, dehydrating, and freeze-drying can preserve them for even longer.
Q: Will pumpkins turn orange if picked green?
A: No, they will not continue to ripen once removed from the vine.