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Tips for Harvesting and Caring for Beautiful Pumpkins

Harvesting and labeling pumpkins for a variety trial 
at Rod's Berry Farm in Cambridge, MN. 
Photo: Annie Klodd
It's the most wonderful time of the year - pumpkin time! You can buy your 2019 pumpkins or winter squash directly from a local farmer via a roadside pumpkin stand, or find a local pumpkin patch and enjoy hot cider and other fall attractions while you pick out your perfect jack-o-lantern canvas.

If you grew pumpkins or winter squash yourself, the time is coming to harvest those too! Read on for tips on choosing, harvesting, and storing pumpkins until Thanksgiving or longer.

When to Harvest Your Pumpkins

Most mid-sized pumpkin varieties we grow in Minnesota take between 90-105 days from planting to when they are mature and ready to pick. Miniature pumpkins mature faster, in about 70-90 days. This year, pumpkin farmers in much of the state planted pumpkins between June 1 to June 14 . That means pumpkins are reaching maturity right about...now. 

To determine if your garden pumpkins are mature, count back days to when you planted the seeds. If you planted transplants instead of seeds, subtract 7 days from your count.

Another indicator that it is time to harvest is that the plants have died back, and the stem of the pumpkin has hardened. Fruit color can sometimes be an indicator, but some varieties turn yellow or orange before they have reached full maturity. Therefore, days since planting and plant die-back are better indicators than fruit color.

Whether you grew your pumpkins in your garden or you plan to buy them from a local farmer, it is not too early to go out and retrieve them. However, if you wish to wait to harvest your pumpkins for a few weeks, that is fine as well. 

Curing pumpkins

Pumpkins curing in a dry place 
following harvest. 
Photo: Annie Klodd
Whether you wish to harvest your garden's pumpkins now or later, it is a good idea to "cure" them after harvest. Curing allows the pumpkins to last longer by hardening their skin and protecting the flesh from deterioration.

To cure your pumpkins, cut them off the vine and let them sit in a sunny, dry place like a dry part of your garden, your doorstep, or a sunroom. Keep them there for at least 2 weeks.

How long will they last if not cured? 

If pumpkins are not cured, they should last a few weeks before decaying. Cured pumpkins, however, may store for months, meaning that you could save them for your Christmas pumpkin pie or roasted pumpkin seeds. Certain varieties of winter squash are known to store until the spring if they are properly cured.

How to harvest a pumpkin

'Specter' pumpkins with 
long curved stems. 
Photo: Annie Klodd
To harvest a pumpkin, simply remove the pumpkin stem from the vine and brush off the soil. Some farmers prefer to make a clean cut to the stem with pruning sheers, while others tear the vine off of the stem, leaving a more natural look. 

Stems (also called "handles") vary greatly in length, girth, and overall quality, and this is variety dependent. In fact, handle quality is one of the traits that pumpkin breeders select for in new varieties.

If possible, try to leave at least 4 inches of stem attached to the pumpkin when you remove it from the vine. This helps protect the pumpkin from frost damage and rotting. 

Potential Challenges During Pumpkin Harvest

Two common challenges to pumpkin storability include powdery mildew and squash bug feeding. Both can cause damage and premature deterioration of the pumpkins.

A healthy pumpkin stem with 
no visible powdery mildew. 
Photo: Annie Klodd
If the pumpkin vine had powdery mildew during the season, the disease may have spread to the stem, causing the stem to decay before the pumpkins are fully ripe. Stems with powdery mildew may reduce the length of time the pumpkin can store before decaying.

  • If the stem has some powdery mildew but looks intact overall, there is not much to do unless you are able to cut off the part of the stem that is infected. 
  • A pumpkin stem infected 
    with powdery mildew. 
    Note the white coloration. 
    Photo: Annie Klodd
  • If the stem is completely deteriorated from powdery mildew, it is best to cut off much of the stem or discard the pumpkin altogether. 
When picking pumpkins from a pumpkin patch, avoid choosing pumpkins with powdery mildew on the stem.

Insect damage

Squash bugs feed on the skin of pumpkins, even after they are mature. The injury points they create can cause the pumpkins to decay faster.

Squash bugs on a pumpkin, 
in the adult 
and late nymph stages. 
Photo: Annie Klodd
If you see squash bugs crawling on the pumpkins, go ahead and harvest if the pumpkins are ripe, in order to get them out of the garden. Cure or display them away from the garden and away from squash bug habitat.

Remove debris from the garden this fall to reduce squash bug habitat for next year. 

Author: Annie Klodd, Extension Educator-Fruit and Vegetable Production



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