Lawn & Garden
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – ‘Tis the season to be harvesting! Bring out the decorations and spice because it is pumpkin harvesting time.
Pumpkins and other winter squash fruit take a long time to mature. Preserving them after picking off of the vine is the tricky part.
To ensure healthy pumpkins for cooking or spooky decorations, Alabama Extension Specialist Joe Kemble has the remedy for proper harvesting, curing and post-harvest care.
Knowing when to harvest the fruit is the first step to preserving a ripe pumpkin or winter squash for as long as possible.
“Even after they have matured and are removed from the vine, pumpkin and winter squash are still alive,” Kemble said.
Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn and Hubbard, are mature when the skin of the fruit resists puncture from a thumbnail. The skin of the winter squash will appear dull and dry when mature. In contrast, the immature fruit will appear brighter.
Pumpkins should also resist puncture from a thumbnail and have a firm rind when they are ready to harvest. When picking pumpkins, make sure to leave a long stem, or handle. However, for winter squash, be sure to remove the stems completely.
“Keep in mind that dead vines do not indicate maturity in pumpkin and winter squash,” Kemble said. “When vines die prematurely from disease or drought, for example, the fruits are probably immature.”
Surprisingly, a mature pumpkin will store better than an immature fruit will. Therefore, it is essential to know when to harvest.
While most amateur pumpkin farmers know how to harvest a mature fruit, they may not understand the importance of properly curing and storing them.
“The objective of curing and storing pumpkins is to prolong the post-harvest life of the fruit,” Kemble said.
Not only does it ensure a longer post-harvest life, but curing helps to heal wounds, ripen immature fruit and enhance color.
The curing process involves increasing storage temperatures and relative humidity for approximately 10 days. Typically, temperatures are raised to 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit with 75 to 80 percent relative humidity.
After curing, reduce the temperature and relative humidity. For pumpkins, reduce the temperature to 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 50 to 75 percent.
“While curing is beneficial for pumpkins and some winter squash, there is little proof that butternut, Hubbard or quality squashes benefit from curing,” Kemble said.
Once the curing process is complete, it is time to store the pumpkin and winter squash. Make sure the fruit is well matured and free from injury or decay before storage.
Keeping the fruit dry with good air circulation will prolong the post-harvest life. In addition, continue to control and monitor the humidity levels of the storage location. High humidity can cause decay, whereas low humidity can cause excessive weight loss for the fruit.
The harvesting, curing and post-harvest storage of pumpkin and winter squash makes the growing process seem like a breeze. Don’t fret, all of the hard work is worth it for a healthy, long-lasting fruit.
For more information on pumpkins and other winter squash, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.