Harvesting, curing and storing pumpkins

 

Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, discusses harvesting pumpkins. This is one of a series of articles she has written about growing various veggies (see right hand sidebar). She has also written a number of articles about growing various herbs, growing various fruit trees and general growing techniques.

A version of this article was first published on the Sustainable Macleod website.

Also, read Helen Simpson’s article about growing cucurbits.

Pumpkins take a long time and a lot of space to grow so harvesting, curing and storing them carefully is important to avoid this time and space being wasted.

How to harvest pumpkin
  • Use secateurs or loppers to cut the stem leaving around 10cm of stalk attached.
  • Do not carry the pumpkin using the stalk as a handle as the stalk may pull away (use immediately if this happens).
  • Select pumpkins individually for harvesting as those on a vine will not all ripen at the same time.
  • Handle carefully and avoid bruising or cuts in the rind.
What are the signs that a pumpkin is ready for picking?
  • The stem needs to have withered i.e. changed from green to brown and dried out. The withered stem seals the pumpkin from insect entry and prevents rot where the stalk attaches to the fruit.
  • The rind needs to be hard and not mark when a fingernail is pushed into it.
  • The pumpkin has a hollow sound when knocked on.
  • It has turned the colour typical of the variety.
  • It may smell ‘pumpkiny’ around the stalk.
  • As the pumpkin is nearing ripeness, the leaves will begin to lose colour and crisp around the edges indicating the vine is dying.
Can you pick a pumpkin too early? Definitely!
  • Pumpkins that do not exhibit the above characteristics begin to deteriorate and then rot very quickly.
  • If the pumpkin is a variety that grows green and changes colour as it ripens, it will typically not mature further after harvesting. If it was ‘almost’ mature, it may be possible to ripen it by exposing it to the sun and turning it every few days but there is no guarantee. Pumpkins that have begun to change colour may sometimes ripen.
Can you pick a pumpkin too late? Yes!
  • Pumpkins need to be harvested before the first frost or before heavy rain occurs around the time of maturity. Do not allow pumpkins to sit on soggy soil. If they are not quite ready, raise them onto straw or a straw bale or even an off-cut of timber.
  • If you need to harvest early, store pumpkins in a warm place (27-30 degC) for two weeks.
Curing pumpkins
  • Once harvested, the rind needs to harden. To achieve this, place the pumpkin on its side (so moisture cannot pool around the stalk or in the ridges) in a sunny spot, and turn every few days. A wooden deck or shelf is ideal for this.
  • Rest the pumpkin on newspaper, straw or a rack. It is important that air can circulate around the whole pumpkin and especially beneath it.
  • Cure for at least a week (but longer if possible).
Storing pumpkins
  • Do not store on bare ground or garden soil or concrete.
  • Place straw or newspaper beneath the pumpkin and store it on its side.
  • Store in a dark, cool, dry place, keeping the pumpkin dry. A temperature range of 10-16 degC is ideal. A higher temperature may cause the pumpkin to become stringy whilst a lower temperature may result in a loss of quality.
  • Store in a single layer.
  • Inspect weekly to check for any soft spots including beneath the pumpkin. Discard any that are rotting.
Rat attack

Pumpkins are often attacked by rats, who love the sweet, soft flesh. They will bite into the rind and then hollow out the flesh, leaving the shell which may look, from a distance, as though it is still intact. One issue is that rats can be more astute than the gardeners at knowing when pumpkins are ripe and harvest ready. Just as we may identify a ‘pumpkiny’ smell around the stalk, so do rats. My advice is to check your pumpkins daily when they are close to full maturity and be prepared to harvest as soon as most of the criteria are met. Storage in a rat proof environment is then a necessity. Make sure there is nothing rats can climb up (e.g. wooden legs supporting a rack) to reach the pumpkins, which will be even more tempting to them as the pumpkins become sweeter.

  34 Responses to “Harvesting, curing and storing pumpkins”

  1. My pumpkins were climbing and got too heavy and sagged to ground. There is a split in vine. It is a yellowish not green jap. Should I harvest now? In Adelaide Hills

    • Hi Megan,

      If the split is such that sap is not longer getting across, then you might as well harvest now. But if there is a possibility that sap is still reaching the pumpkin, I would leave it until the stem starts to wither.

  2. I have tried growing Jap, Kent and butternut pumpkins in the same bed but had a little success with the Jap pumpkins and very little success with the butternut and no Kent pumpkins at all Should I remove the leaves that are dying from all the pumpkins? I have harvested a couple of the Jap pumpkins; they were OK. Maybe I went a bit early but I just wanted to get at them. However, after reading your advice, I am trying to resist a little longer before getting into the rest. I am in Rowville Melbourne.

  3. Hi! First time pumpkin grower. I live in hot North Carolina. My pumpkin is about ripe now. I don’t have a cellar to cure it. Could I put it in a bin in a closet indoors? Any help is appreciated!

    • Hi Janie,

      Yes, that should be fine. Best to put it on some sort of tray to help make sure that the bottom doesn’t rot.

  4. Hi there, all my pumpkins are large & they are the colour of clouds. I planted the seeds in January here in Shepparton Victoria. The stalks are starting to dry but only dry for an inch then it’s still green. They are lying on the ground still where they are growing. They look really healthy. Tomorrow morning we are having our first frost. So what should l do ? Thankyou.

    • Harvest them now!

      • Noticed yesterday that rats have nibbled the skin on two hanging jap pumpkins. They haven’t touched those on the ground. Does the shallow nibbling mean the pumpkin cannot now be stored?

        • That would depend on how deep the nibbling is. If it has penetrated to the flesh then it won’t store but if it’s ‘cosmetic’ then it should be ok. The rind of a pumpkin is generally quite tough and can take minor nibbling. Keep checking it.

      • Hi! I live in the Hunter Region and have many Jap/Kent growing in thick mulch bed. So far have avoided frost damage (1 cold night thus far). Wondering if I can harvest if the tendril curls are brown but the tendril stalk is still a little green and rubbery. Total newbie to veggie growing so any help is welcome.
        If I do pick at this stage and cure it as above, how long approx will it store for? Many thanks!

        • Harvest them now!

          How long they last in storage is a bit unpredictable but around 6 months would be reasonable.

    • Hi fellow gardeners. I have a few pumpkins that have grown up into nearby trees. The leaves have all died – is it too early/late to harvest? Thanks for any suggestions.

      • Harvest them now. It is certainly not to early to harvest. You will find out if it is too late if they have rotted when you have harvest them.

  5. I live in country, Victoria, unfortunately planting my pumpkins a bit late. I have quite a few good sized ones. As it has been raining a lot, I’m thinking of harvesting them all today and placing a cover over them underneath our pergola as I’m worried they might do that to rot. Any suggestions please i would be grateful.

  6. Hi,

    I’m in Melbourne and the stalks to my jap pumpkin are still very green but the leaves on the vine are beginning to wither. My vine produced 13 good sized pumpkins with an extra few that didn’t grow for one reason or another and rats have begun to eat those. I’m worried that when they (the rats) have finished with the smaller pumpkins, they will then move to my preferred pumpkins. Can I harvest now? It’s beginning to get quite wet and cold in Melbourne, and the good pumpkins are sitting on mulch so are not getting too wet.

    What do you suggest?

    • Harvest them now. Better you get them than the rats! And, yes, the rats will move on to the larger ones. I’m surprised thaty they did not start with them.

      • Hi there. I have a similar question. My pumpkin vines started dying off weeks ago (and I cut them back in an effort to get rid of the mouldy ones). It is now mid May in Melbourne and there are still a few new green leaves alive but the rest looks quite bare. So I cut a stem to one of my pumpkins as it felt hard. However the inside of the stem was still green and sappy. Too soon? The pumpkin is a good colour, has a hard skins and sounds hollow.

  7. I live in Australia and am growing Queensland blue and jap pumpkins. How do I know when they are ready to pick? Most of the leaves are dying but the stems are not turning brown.

    • The rule is to wait until the stalk withers, which is generally after the leaves. If in doubt, harvest with as long a stem as possible. Examine it regularly and, if there is any softening or discolouration around the stem, use immediately.

  8. Hi, the ‘handle’ on the top of one of my pumpkins has accidentally been knocked off before the pumpkin has been hardened. Do you have any suggestions of what I could do? I wondered about putting some olive oil on it(?)

    • Hi Linda

      I think olive oil would not work. There is a possibility it would act as a seal but I think it is more likely that it would accelerate rotting around the wound. My advice would be to use it quickly. You could simply keep an eye on the wound and the moment the skin starts to darken around it (in other words starts to rot) use it.

    • This is my third year trying to grow pumpkins. First year was not so good, one very, very small pumpkin. Last year one semi-small and one average. This year I got two very nice sized ones, (36″ around center). They are the BIG MAX pumpkins. One kind of snapped off vine halfway so I cut the rest of the way off, it has green spot on the side resting on ground, they came in as yellow pumpkins then turned orange. How can I finish the ripening of this pumpkin?

  9. Store on their side? What is the side of a pumpkin? Some say store with the stork down?

    • The side is neither top nor bottom but the skin of the pumpkin going around it, if it’s a round one. For long ones, like butternuts, just turn occasionally. If you cure the pumpkin with stalk down, you do risk breaking the stalk off and that will result in deterioration of the pumpkin, leading to it rotting. If the base gets any moisture in it, then that will also lead to rot. The main thing is to avoid it rotting underneath through lack of air or insect attack through the base, which is usually more vulnerable than the hardening skin.

    • I have found that melting unscented candle wax over the exposed stem works well.

      • First time pumpkin grower. My 2 Queensland Blue are growing from buried veggie scraps. They look healthy and are about 20cm across. I put newspaper under them. The plant is still very green. One has about a 2cm scratch on the skin. Does not seem deep. I don’t have rats as I have adopted 2 very active stray cats. Is there any way to seal the scratch? Thank you.

        • Hi Daniel

          There’s no need to seal the scratch. The pumpkin will do that itself aided by hot weather.

          Robin

  10. We have some non-orange pumpkins (Blue Banana and Anna Swartz) which we stored throughout winter. Over the last month (January) they have started to get an orange hue to them. Do you know why that happens?

    • Hi John

      I don’t know for sure and I googled it but there’s nothing there. However my guess would be that it is simply ageing. It might be time to use the ones that are colouring.

      Cheers

      Robin

    • My understanding when blue skinned pumpkins start to turn yellow or orange is that their storage life is close to done. They theoretically should be at their sweetest then too.

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