Pumpkins are a full sun crop that is harvested usually from August until October in North America depending on the region and climate. In the southern United States, the growing season begins and ends sooner than in the northern U.S. and Canada. With heavy insect pest and disease problems in the south it is quite reasonable for pumpkin fruit to be harvested in late August. In the northern part of the U.S. and Canada with a shorter growing season, the harvest dates may be pushed to later in the season which can cause problems with the early first frost dates. With these variations in growing conditions and harvest times it’s important to know just how to store pumpkins to keep them on a long term basis.
Regardless of the region you live in, there are some steps you can take help make the pumpkin harvest last. Firstly, consider that there are several different types of pumpkins and winter squash varieties, some of which keep longer than others. Typically you find that the pumpkin and winter squash heirloom varieties which are often the sweetest for baking keep the best. At the top of this list includes the Long Island Cheese, Fairytale, Jarrahdale and Hubbard squash varieties. Smaller varieties of the classic orange Jack o Lantern field pumpkin, such as the New England Sugar pie pumpkin also have a sweet flesh ideal for baking. These field pumpkin varieties, many of which are hydrid varieties, are not often very long keepers. Which ever of the types of pumpkins you choose to grow or purchase you can take some simple steps for storing pumpkins to help them last.
Harvesting pumpkins when they are fully matured and healthy will typically result in longer keepers regardless of the type. In the garden, you will notice as the pumpkin vines and fruit stems begin to dry out, the pumpkin fruit has developed hard skin and full color is when the fruits are becoming mature. When purchasing pumpkins, look for fruit with full color for its particular type, has a solid (not rotting) stem and has limited insect damage or scarring on the fruit.
After pumpkin fruit is harvested, disease pathogens that may remain on fruit can be destroyed and removed by washing the fruit in a mild chlorine solution. This solution should contain ten parts water with one part chlorine bleach. With smaller pumpkin harvests, the use of sanitizing wipes, such as Chlorox wipes may also be used. If buying pumpkins, check with the seller to see if pumpkins were washed in this type of solution. If not you can wash them later after purchase.
Upon harvest, pumpkin fruit should be cured. Curing the pumpkin fruit is a very important process to helping the fruit last for long term storage. The curing process simply involves storing pumpkin fruit in an environment with a humidity of around 80 % and a temperature of around 80° F or slightly higher for about two weeks. During the pumpkin curing process fruit should encounter good air circulation and be protected from insects, animals and excessive sun exposure if curing outdoors. Acorn squash varieties should not be cured as this can reduce storage life.
After the pumpkin curing process has taken place, pumpkins are ready to be placed in long term storage. The location you choose for storing pumpkins should be a dark, dry and cool indoor location. Fruits are best stored in temperatures around the mid 60° F range, but should not go below 50° F. Depending on the climate region you live in will affect your ability to control the pumpkin storage temperature, but just getting as close as you can will only help in your efforts for storing pumpkins.
While these methods and techniques do not guarantee that your pumpkins will last past January, they will give you a much better chance. This author has used several of these techniques first hand and found them to be successful in storing pumpkins well into the winter months.
RESOURCE / REFERENCE:
Ogutu, Maurice, Extension Educator, Horticulture Countryside Center. (Oct./Nov. 2004)
Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins, Winter Squash, and Gourds. Home Hort Hints: Yard and Garden News for Northern Illinois, University of Illinois Extension.
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