How to harvest pumpkins properly

a pumpkin after harvest
a pumpkin after harvest

know when and how to do it right. Here are some tips to ensure a successful harvest in the garden.

The pumpkin harvest is coming up. Many questions arise: How to recognize the ripeness of the harvest? How long can you harvest? And above all: Is it a summer, storage or ornamental pumpkin – the latter is not edible! In the following we you can find out when and how you can harvest and store a pumpkin.

When can you harvest a pumpkin?

The end of August is the time: you can harvest the first edible pumpkins, for spaghetti squash you usually have to wait until September. The development time is about 100 days, then the leaves turn yellow and the pumpkins do not grow any bigger. Now it depends on the use: Should they be stored or not? Young pumpkins and especially the summer squash are best cooked and eaten fresh, because their shelf life is limited, within two weeks they should be consumed. Advantage of summer squash: Their peel does not need to be removed before cooking.

Unripe pumpkins usually do not yet taste so aromatic. Their taste can be compared with that of zucchini. The first night frost marks the end of the harvest period: before that, after ripening, the pumpkins must be placed in cool storage, preferably around 15 ° C / 59 °F.

Criteria for crop maturity

If pumpkins are to be stored, one must pay attention to numerous criteria that indicate harvest maturity:

  • The pumpkin should have fully developed its species-specific color, i.e. a Hokkaido pumpkin should shine in a strong orange-red. The more intense the color, the more vitamin-rich the Hokkaido varieties are, for example. Usually smaller fruits taste more aromatic than large ones, where the flesh likes to have a floury consistency.
  • The surface of ripe pumpkins feels smooth and plump, while unripe pumpkins have a slightly sticky skin. The skin of fully ripe storage pumpkins can no longer be scored with a fingernail.
  • A green and herbaceous stem indicates a lack of maturity. Mature pumpkins have a woody stem that has already turned brown.
  • Experts can tell if a pumpkin is ripe by the hollow sound when tapping on it. However, this criterion is not clear for all pumpkin varieties. And you need some experience to be able to classify the sound.
  • Powdery mildew is not a reason to harvest a pumpkin prematurely. Plants often get it. The pumpkins themselves can still ripen.

Harvest pumpkin properly: Handle with care

Pumpkin keeps best without injury, so cut off the fruiting body with a piece of stem about five cm (2 in) long. If that is cracked or missing altogether, fungal diseases have a point of attack. The skin should also remain unharmed. The ripening process can be initiated by no longer watering the plants. At the same time you can cut the roots in a semicircle of half a meter (20 in) with a spade.

Even before that, pumpkins resting on the ground should be placed on a board or on a stone, then they will not suffer from moisture. Storage pumpkins can also ripen hanging freely. However, in some cases it is then necessary to support the shoot, including the fruit.

Allow to ripen before storage

Especially in dry weather, it makes sense to let the pumpkins dry out on the bed for a few more days. The skin becomes durable during this time. In wet weather, move the fruit to a warm place about 20 °C / 68 °F, only after two to three weeks they are stored in a cooler place.

Beware of bitter (ornamental) squash

Ornamental pumpkins in particular, but also edible pumpkin hybrids that have not been grown according to variety, taste bitter and should not be eaten. Bitter substances may be contained, for example, because edible pumpkins have been fertilized with pollen from ornamental pumpkins. The so-called cucurbitacins can cause severe gastrointestinal damage. Pumpkins with bitter substances do not belong in the cooking pot, but are discarded! You could plant the pumpkin seeds from them, but then only to grow the plant for ornamental purposes and not to harvest fruit.

Differences in shelf life

As a general rule, the thicker the skin and the firmer the flesh, the longer an edible pumpkin will keep. Storage pumpkins can be kept for up to one year. Some varieties, on the other hand, can be kept for only two to five months. Unripe pumpkins should be used within two weeks. Ideal for storage is always an airy and frost-free room at temperatures of 10 to 15 °C / 50 and 59 °F and a relatively low humidity.

When and how to harvest ornamental pumpkins?

Pure ornamental pumpkins are cultivated for their pretty shape and color. They are mostly used for decorative purposes. Ornamental pumpkins should also be allowed to mature. The time to harvest is when the pumpkin sounds hollow when tapped, the fruit feels firm, and the stem is woody: all criteria that also apply to storage pumpkins. It is a good idea to actively cut off ornamental pumpkins with a sharp knife as well. Fruits that fall off on their own usually have a short shelf life because they contain too much moisture. Ornamental pumpkins can be left to dry well on a window sill, and they should be turned over again and again. Ornamental pumpkins should always be removed before the first frost.

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