We go pumpkin picking at my parents house every October to pick out our jack o’ lantern pumpkins. Olive usually picks the biggest one for herself (this year it was 2 ft tall!) and chooses a baby sized one for her baby sister.
But this year I also planted my own pie pumpkins so I can make some of my favorite pumpkin dishes (like these Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles) without resorting to the canned variety, which sometimes isn’t entirely pumpkin!
The great thing about pumpkins is that, if stored properly, they last a LONG time. That means you can have fresh pumpkin well into the winter! Here are some tips for harvesting and storing your own pumpkins.
When are pumpkins ready for harvest?
Color is a pretty good indication of ripeness. The color and shade depend on the variety of pumpkin you are growing but typically it will be a deep orange. Turn any green spots toward the sun while they are still on the vine to help coloring.
Another way you can tell if your pumpkins are ripe is to check the vines. The vines will begin to dry and stop growing and the stem will be hard.
Test your pumpkin by poking it with your thumb nail. A ripe pumpkin’s skin will dent but not puncture.
You can also thump the pumpkin to check for ripeness. If it sounds hollow, it’s ripe.
How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins
Harvesting pumpkins, whether from your own garden or at a farm, is a fun way to celebrate the cooler days. Choose a dry day to harvest if possible since pumpkins prefer to stay dry. Gloves, long sleeves and boots are a good idea since vines can be prickly or rough.
When you harvest a pumpkin, make sure that your knife or pruning shears are sharp so as not to leave a jagged cut on the stem. This will help prevent disease from getting into your pumpkin (and rotting it, yuck!).
Leave at least 3-5 inches of stem attached to the pumpkin. This helps the pumpkin to last longer. Choose blemish-free fruit for curing (more about that below) and use damaged or blemished fruit first as it won’t store as long. Don’t hold the pumpkin by its stem, as it may fall off from the weight of the pumpkin. If your pumpkin’s stem falls off by accident use that pumpkin first.
What about frost?
It’s best to harvest before the first frost since a frost will shorten a pumpkin’s shelf life. However, pumpkins are frost hardy and can sustain a frost easily. If your pumpkins are unripe before the frost, you can try to cover them or you can go ahead and harvest them anyway. Pumpkins can still ripen off of the vine by sitting in the sun (just be sure to bring them inside if a frost is forecasted).
How to cure pumpkins
After you’ve harvested your pumpkins you will need to field-cure them for 10 days or indoor cure for 4-5 days. Curing pumpkins is essentially hardening the skin of the fruit, ripening immature fruit and healing any wounded spots of the pumpking. It also prolongs the life of the pumpkin post-harvest.
After cutting the pumpkin from the vine, sit it upright and leave in the field or garden or on your front porch steps for 10 days. The sun helps cure the pumpkin. If it’s forecasted to be wet and cloudy consider curing indoors. And keep in mind that leaving the fruit in the field leaves it vulnerable to predators or pests. A pest spray like this homemade natural pest spray may help.
If you don’t want to field cure, you can cure indoors in a warm, humid place ideally. A sunny window works fine as well, but you may have to cure for a few extra days.
You will know your pumpkins have been cured when the stump has healed over and the rind is hard.
How to Store pumpkins
Sanitize your pumpkins. Wash the dirt off and dry thoroughly. You can do this at any point in the process but before storage is your last chance. Wipe them down with a half vinegar, half water solution (add a squirt of nontoxic dish soap too).
Choose a cool dry place with lots of air circulation. Fifty to sixty degrees is a good temperature. If air circulation isn’t great (like in a basement) let in fresh cool air nightly. Store your pumpkins on wood pallets or steps or on a piece of cardboard. Be sure the fruits aren’t touching. Check on them periodically to catch rot early.
Pie pumpkins, when stored properly, will last 8-12 weeks, though some people swear they last up to 6 months.
When it’s time to pull out your stored pumpkin and cook it, follow these directions for how to cook pumpkin and use it in your favorite pumpkin recipes!
Have you ever grown your own pumpkins before? Share your experience in the comments!
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