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How to Harvest Pumpkins Properly

Written by Hilary on August 16th, 2007

To make sure your pumpkins last as long as possible, they must be harvested, cured, and stored properly.

A common mistake is to harvest fruit while it’s still immature, which gives you fruit that can not be successfully stored, giving you poor quality results.

On the other hand, keep in mind that mature fruit that have been removed from the vine are still alive, so proper curing and storage will slow the rate of respiration, and prolong the storage life of the pumpkin.

To harvest correctly, here is what you do:

1. Harvest pumpkins when they have developed a deep uniform color, and have a hard rind. The rind will be firm and resist denting when pressed with a thumbnail

2. Harvest all mature pumpkins before a hard freeze. A light frost will destroy the vines and should not harm the fruit, but a hard freeze, can damage the fruit, so get your pumpkins in before damaging hard frosts arrive

3. When harvesting pumpkins handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises which can provide entrances for various rot-producing organisms

4. Cut the fruit off the vine with a pruning shears. Leave a 3 to 4 inch (7.6 – 10.2 cm) handle on the pumpkins. A pumpkin with a “handle” is not only more attractive, but they are less likely to rot when they are harvested with a portion of the stem still attached to the fruit

5. Try to never carry the fruit by their stems. The stems may not be able to support the weight and they may break off

6. After harvesting, cure the pumpkins at a temperature of 80 to 85° F (27 to 29° C) and at a relative humidity of 80 to 85 % for about 10 days

7. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches

8. After curing, store pumpkins in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55° F (10 to 13° C)

9. Never store pumpkins near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit release ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins

10. When storing pumpkins, place them 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 helps prevent the growth of decay fungi and bacteria.

11. Avoid placing pumpkins in piles. This generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit

12. Periodically check pumpkins in storage and get rid of any fruit which show signs of decay

13. Properly cured and stored pumpkins should remain in good condition for 2 to 3 months or longer depending up on the variety

If you follow the above steps, you will be assured a successful harvest, and you can use your pumpkins any way you want after that!

For more gardening tips and gardening how tos – visit: Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine.

 

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24 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jeff L. says:

    Thanks Hilary,

    This is my first year growing pumpkins and I was perplexed about a lot of things. I do have one unanswered question however. If a sturdy, well-developed (though still green) pumpkin drops from the vine, can it’s flesh still be eaten if the proper procedures are followed. PS I am growing the wonderful “Rouge d’Etampes” variety. Thanks!

    Jeff

  2. Hilary says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you, I was gone all last week, and I am still trying to catch up!

    In anwer to your question, you can eat a green pumpkin, just treat it like a summer squash. An immature pumpkin will not store long (much like a summer squash).

    Also some varieties will ripen from green to orange off the vine, however, I’m not positive the Rouge d’Etampes will.

    I love “Cinderella” pumpkins, they are my all time favorite because they are just so darned pretty!

  3. Anna says:

    When is the time to harvest “ghost” pumpkin variety? Do I cut it off the vine, cure it for 10 days and then prepare it? This is my first time at growing pumpkin and I really appreciate any insight you may have to offer. Thanks!

    Anna

  4. Hilary says:

    Hi Anna,

    Yes, the white pumpkins like white ghost or boo varieties are harvested just like orange pumpkins.

    Harvest when they have a rich color, in your case a nice deep, even white, or creamy color.

    You can also tell, because the vines start to die off.

    The rinds will also get nice and tough, and should resist scratching with your fingernail.

    Make sure you harvest your pumpkins with some of the stems left on to make a nice “handle” and try to harvest before any threat of deep frosts.

    Hope this helps.

    Hilary

  5. Anonymous says:

    What if you have no place to cure the
    pumpkins at 80 to 85 degrees we are in upstate NY and haven't had l0 days
    at 80 all summer!!!

    Thanks carol

  6. Hilary says:

    Hi Carol,

    Good question! So many people are seeing below normal temperatures this year – while others are having well above average temperatures – very odd.

    So, to your problem. Do the best you can to find a warm spot, such as a south facing wall, or perhaps someplace that traps heat like an enclosed sunny area, or courtyard.

    Oftentimes during a cool day, a south facing wall or a place out of the wind will have temperatues 10 to 15 degrees warmer than other areas of your yard.

    Just do the best you can and enjoy your mild weather.

  7. Angela says:

    Hi,

    I am harvesting pie pumpkins today. I harvested 3 so far. I am wondering if I could have left them on the vine until fall? Oh also if I do have some left on the vine in fall how do you cure them in MN??? It gets quite cold up here.

  8. Darlene Pioli says:

    It’s only AUGUST 14TH AND MY PUMPKINS ARE HUGE AND VERY ORANGE.Do I WAIT TO HARVEST OR WILL THEY START TO ROT? We have had 99degree days for 2 months now. If I harvest now can I store in a finished basement that is usually 68 to 70 degrees?The Grandchildren really wanted a pumpkin for Halloween which is 2 1/2 months away.

  9. Stubber says:

    pumpkin plants have mildrew on leaves are fruits still edible?

  10. Sue says:

    If the vines are starting to die back but there’s no frost or freeze in the forecast, can I leave the pumpkins in the garden or is it best to harvest them?

  11. Hilary says:

    Hi Sue,

    Sure you can leave them out. They will just cure a little longer.

    Just make sure they don’t start to rot, so check them once in a while.

  12. Hilary says:

    Hi Stubber,

    If only the leaves have mildew and not the pumpkins, you are just fine.

  13. Hilary says:

    Hi Darlene,

    Go ahead and harvest your pumpkins now. If they are done, they will just rot in the heat.

    Get them harvested and cured and stored in a cool location. They will hold just fine until October!

  14. Rebecca says:

    Hi! We planted our pumpkins in mid July in (Mid-MO) now we have a nice sized pumpkin that is very green still. Is thre a way to have it ripen faster for Halloween? Our five year old is depending on it. Also when would be a good time for planting from seed next year? The ones we had last year were small and rotted by mid Sept. Thanks in advance for your help.

  15. Hilary says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, it’s been crazy here this week.

    In regards to your questions I am going to give you a couple of links to detailed articles I did about these very topics!

    Read:

    Tips to Save Pumpkin Seeds and Turn Green Pumpkins Orange

    This will give you good ideas how to ripen up your pumpkins in time for Halloween.

    And then read:

    Growing Pumpkins – Giant, Jack-O’-Lanterns, Pie, Carving, and Miniature

    It sounds like you have a very short growing season so next year I would plant as early as possible and that is when the soil is warm enough to plant.

    I give some tips how to warm the soil so you can plant early in the pumpkin article listed above.

    If you can get your seeds in the ground by May or June do so.

    Hope this helps!

  16. Guuurl girl says:

    how long until i am able to harvest my pumpkin?

  17. Gypsy Girl says:

    I have a question about pumpkins, that you probably have never heard before. I live in North West Arizona, about 2 hours out of Las Vegas. It is HOT here a large portion of the year. It is Spring and we have already hit 100. I grew pumpkins last Sept. and got 2 pumpkins out of the deal. They are on the vine and 1 is HUGE and ready to go. The other is still half and half. How would I cure them here? Can I store in a refrigerator? We do not have 80% humidity even when it does rain. Right now I have more pumpkin plants that are “babies” They are slowly growing but only make male flowers. Is it possible to nurse them through our 120 degree summer so I can be ahead of the game for pumpkins for the fall? I am hoping to be able to sell them if I can figure when is the best time to plant etc. Thanks for your help in advance.

  18. Robin says:

    You do not mention the squash vine borer on your website. This is an important pest in most of the U.S.
    http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1209.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squash_vine_borer

    Mine were attacked before I knew exactly what that lovely moth was. I managed to save the pumpkin by splitting the stem, but lost the zucchinis.

  19. James says:

    I planted 12 pumpkin seeds in late may & only produced 5 pumpkins. One has a large soft & discolored area so im giving it to a neighbor so she can clean it up & cook the good flesh. I have a large & small one thats about ready to be harvested & 2 very small ones that are still green. I have put off planting pumpkins for 10 yrs & im glad i finally did it & it has been a learning experience. Halloween is just around the corner but im not going to carve the pumpkins. I live in southern ca/inland & i may plant seeds again next may. I do now know the seeds need a min of 6 hrs direct sunlight & half of my seeds didnt get that. Lesson learned.

  20. Corey says:

    hello- I have been enjoying reading all the comments. I have four large and very dark green fairytale pumpkins on the vine and I am wondering if I should cut them off so they will turn white or will that happen while they are still on the vine.

    Thanks- Corey

  21. michael says:

    Hi, this is our first growing pumpkins. we already have several about medium size pumpkins that are green and some are already turning into a yellowish color. It is safe to harvest the pumpkin if they are still a green color? Should we go ahead a harvest the ones that are turning color? We are worried that the birds, squirrels might get to them.

  22. Mavis says:

    Hi can I still use my pumpkins after they got hit by frost?? Thanks

  23. Martha says:

    Is it harmful to bake & use the pumpking pulp of a pumpkin that frosted? I could tell when I cut the pumpkin: the frosted part of the shell was a darker orange, but the pulp looks normal & smells very good.

  24. Cindy says:

    my daughter and i planted pumpkins in june after germinating them in a small green house. we had 4 plants that we planted in a fenced in area and after a while they took over the whole thing and started overcrowding themselves, so we pulled the fence down. now the area that had the 4 plants have some orange pumpkins and the leaves are all dying but where we broke the fence down those leaves are still green and they have tons of small green pumpkins will the whole thing start to die because everything originally came from those 4 plants

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