Harvesting and storing pumpkins

Several years ago we had a small pumpkin patch that produced maybe three pumpkins, but it was fun to watch them grow over the summer. The toughest part was figuring out when to pick them.

Mike Roegge is a local foods and small farm educator at the University of Illinois. He says to harvest when the pumpkins are a deep, orange color because they don’t ripen any further after they’re picked.

"They’re living when you pick them, they’re still attached to the vine. You want to make sure that the vine is healthy for picking them yourself," says Roegge. If you’re selecting them from the store that are already picked, pick ones that have a nice fresh green handle, and the surface is entirely smooth, there’s no disease or insect pressure on there."  

Pumpkins should be harvested before the first hard freeze, which could damage the skin and kill tissue. Frost-bitten pumpkins don’t last very long. A healthy pumpkin will stay good for up to a couple of months when stored properly.

Roegge says the best place for a pumpkin is in a pie. But if you have other plans for it, it should go through a curing process similar to potatoes and onions. This allows the rind of the pumpkin to toughen up.

"Put it in an 80-85 degree temperature, 80-85 % humidity environment for perhaps 10-days to let it cure out. After that’s happened you want to place them in a single layer, not touching, and off of a wet concrete floor. You want probably a temperature of 50-55 degrees at that point in time," he recommends. 

Put a piece of wood or cardboard on the bottom of your pumpkins to absorb any moisture that might collect underneath. For long term storage, wash the fruit in a solution of one-cup of chlorine to one-gallon of water. This will kill bacteria that could cause rot on the pumpkins.

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