Pumpkins are easy to grow. All you need is good soil, plenty of space for the vines to roam, and a warm summer. The difficult part to pumpkins is the harvest, curing and storage.
The first step is to harvest your pumpkin properly. The ideal time to harvest pumpkins is when they are fully ripe, the leaves and vines have begun to wither and the stems have begun to dry and turn brown. Pumpkins are fully ripe when they reach the desired color and their skin is shell-like hard. The skin should resist your thumbnail when gently pressed. A ripe pumpkin will make a hollow sound when thumped.
A light frost will destroy the vines and should not harm the fruit, but a hard freeze can damage the fruit. If a hard frost is predicted, you can harvest pumpkins with at least 40 to 50 percent of their skin at the proper color.
These pumpkins will continue to ripen after harvest because pumpkins that have been removed from the vine are still alive. Green and less mature pumpkins, however, will only last a few weeks and will not store.
Time to harvest
Wear gloves at harvest time to protect against the prickly vines that most pumpkin varieties carry. Using a sterile sharp knife or pruning shears, cut pumpkins from the vine leaving at least two inches of stem. Longer stems make for more attractive fall-time Jack-o-lantern and cornucopia decorations. Don’t break off the stem or carry pumpkins by the stem as this can promote decay.
After picking, handle pumpkins carefully to prevent cuts and bruises, and clean the skin with a 10 percent bleach solution. Dry them thoroughly and cure them in a warm location at 70 degrees for 10 days. This curing will toughen the skin and heal surface cuts. You may notice a cork-like material that grows to cover small gouges to the skin.
After curing, store the pumpkins in an area that is dry, provides good air movement and maintains a relatively constant temperature of between 50 and 55 degrees. Do not store them on a concrete floor or allow them to touch each other.
Apples, pears and other ripening fruit should be stored away from pumpkins because they produce ethylene gas, which enhances the ripening process. Those other fruits would prefer colder storage temperatures than pumpkins anyway.
Check your pumpkins periodically for signs of rot, removing any affected fruit. Proper curing and storage slow their rate of respiration and prolong their storage life for up to three months.
It can be a little tricky, but if you follow these steps in harvesting, curing and storing your pumpkins, your efforts will bring many treats such as Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, pumpkin pie with Thanksgiving dinner, and pumpkin bread for Christmas!
Michele Mangiantini is a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener. Mangiantini, along with Master Gardeners Beanie Gersbach and Audreen Williams have helped to edit this season’s “Get It Growing” column.