Many crops are ripening earlier this year. Warm early-spring temperatures allowed gardeners to plant early and hot summer conditions favored growth. Pumpkins are no exception, and they pose a special problem since many gardeners want to save them for use at Halloween, which is still more than two months away.
When harvesting has to take place early, selecting mature pumpkins, curing them properly, and storing them under the right conditions are important so that your Jack O’lanterns will look great in October.
Pumpkins will rot if harvested too young or if allowed to stay in the field once they are mature and exposed to freezing temperatures. Mature pumpkins should be uniformly colored across the entire fruit — orange, white, gray or blue — depending on the variety. Look for the mature coloration of your variety indicated on the seed packet for a guide to ripeness. Mature pumpkins have hard, shiny shells that can’t be easily punctured by a fingernail. Once your pumpkin reaches this stage, it’s time for curing.
Curing is a process that causes the pumpkin skin to harden and promotes healing of small wounds in the skin. Most pumpkins have already been cured when you purchase them at the garden center or store, but if you’re growing your own, it is important to allow time for curing. Once a pumpkin is mature, cure it by allowing it to remain in the garden during dry, sunny weather, ideally, 80 to 85 degrees, for seven to 14 days.
If the weather is turning cold or rainy when your pumpkins reach maturity, harvest and place them in an area with 80 to 85 degrees and 80 to 85 percent relative humidity for about 10 days. A dry garage or shed works well. If pumpkins must be left in the field longer than desired, hay can be placed under them to prevent contact with damp soil and rot.
Harvest by cutting fruits away from the vine. Leave a good length of stem for a handle. Trying to harvest by snapping the stems often causes damage to the pumpkin, and pumpkins without handles usually do not store well. But don’t pick your pumpkin up by the handle, because it may break off!
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