After a long growing season, autumn signifies the beginning of the annual pumpkin harvest. Learn how and when to harvest pumpkins and how to store them to last over the winter months.
Widely cultivated for both culinary and decorative uses, pumpkins (Cucurbita) are easy and fun to grow. As the summer draws to an end, it is time to start thinking about harvesting and storing your pumpkins. Read on to find out how to tell when your pumpkins are ready for picking and how to make sure they last over the cold winter months.
Harvesting pumpkins: when are pumpkins ripe?
Depending on the conditions and type of squash grown, the pumpkin season can be anytime from late August until the end of October. Pumpkins require a long growing period, so it is best to give them a head start. To do this, plant pumpkins under cover in April, so that you can be harvesting the fruits around September.
Even though it can be tempting to harvest them early, pumpkins should be left on the vine until they are ready to harvest. You can tell when your pumpkins are ready to pick when they reach their desired mature colour. This generally tends to be orange or brown or even red in the case of the Uchiki Kuri squash. When ready to harvest, pumpkins also form a tough skin that has become hard enough not to be damaged by a fingernail and sound hollow when tapped. Another sign that your pumpkins are ready to harvest is when the stems turn brown and the foliage dies back.
To harvest your pumpkins, simply cut the fruits free from the vine keeping around 8 to 10cm of stalk attached.
Being hungry plants, you can help ensure the fruits ripen in time by fertilising the pumpkins. Once the flowers appear, feed your pumpkins with a fertiliser that is high in phosphorus and potassium to encourage flower production and fruiting. Our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food can be used for fertilising pumpkins, as it is naturally high in these two minerals as well as water soluble, making it easy to apply when watering.
Tip: when it comes to pumpkin harvest time, keep an eye on the weather forecast, as any unexpected hard frosts can damage the fruits and reduce their storage ability.
How to store pumpkins
Once harvested, place your pumpkins in a dry and sunny spot for 7 to 10 days so that the skins can cure and harden. Outside or in an unheated greenhouse at around 20 °C is ideal. Turn the fruits regularly to prevent any pressure points and avoid the backs of the fruit being left in the shade. Curing is said to enhance the flavour of the flesh but will also help the stalk to dry and harden, increasing the pumpkin’s storage potential.
Once cured, your pumpkins are ready to eat or store safely over the winter. If you wish to store your pumpkins in their entirety either for decorating come Halloween or to eat, you can keep them indoors in a well-ventilated and dark room. A temperature of 12 to 15 °C with a relative humidity of 60 to 70% is considered optimum. You can place them in a wooden box making sure they do not touch or hang them in nets to help keep the pumpkins from rotting. We recommend keeping an eye on the storage temperature, as if it is too high the taste can be affected and if too cold the pumpkins can rot. When stored in this way, fully ripened pumpkins can keep for up to 6 months. However, any less-than-ripe pumpkins or those damaged by frost will not keep as long. These fruits should not be stored with the others but rather consumed first.
If storing pumpkins over the winter months, check on them regularly. If you spot any soft or rotting fruits, remove these to prevent the others from being spoiled.
How to preserve pumpkins
In general, pumpkins tend to produce 4 to 6 fruits per plant. However, if you grow more than one variety, you may well end up with more than you can eat and a bit of a glut. Thankfully though, pumpkins can be preserved either by freezing, pickling or drying.
Tip: when preparing your pumpkins, do not be in a hurry to discard the seeds, as they can make a tasty and nutritious snack. Simply clean the pulp from the seeds under running water and bake in an oven set to 180 °C before allowing it to cool and enjoy.
If you are wondering if you can freeze pumpkins or squash, the answer is most definitely yes. Freezing pumpkins is a great way of preserving them and you can store them this way either pre-cooked or raw for up to a year.
To freeze a pumpkin, remove the skin, stalk and seeds and cut the flesh into small chunks. Place the pumpkin pieces, either raw or cooked and allowed to cool, into a suitable container and put in the freezer.
For soups, you can also freeze pumpkin puree ready to use at a later date. To freeze pumpkin puree, steam the pre-cut pumpkin flesh over boiling water for 10 minutes before liquidising or mashing. Allow to cool and seal in a container before labelling and placing in the freezer.
Pickling pumpkins is another method of preserving your harvest for the coming months, for which there is a plethora of recipes to find and follow online. Pickled pumpkins can be delicious and are a great addition to a salad or to enjoy just on their own. To pickle pumpkin, first remove the skin and seeds and cut the flesh into small cubes or slices. Once prepared, place the pumpkin pieces in a broth of water, vinegar and other spices and bring to the boil before simmering for 20 minutes. Spoon the cooked pumpkin into a sterilised jar and cover with the liquid before sealing. Pickled pumpkins can be eaten straight away or left for a few weeks for their flavour to improve. Once sealed in their jars, place the jars in a cool dark place where they can be kept for several months and refrigerate once opened.
Drying pumpkins is another great method for preserving the fruits, especially with dehydrators becoming more commonplace in the kitchen. To dry a pumpkin, cut the pre-prepared flesh, either cooked or raw, into 1cm thick wedges. Place the wedges in a dehydrator or warm oven set to 50 to 60 °C and turn as required until they are brittle and hard. Once cool, store the dried pumpkin pieces in an airtight container free from any moisture to enjoy as a snack. You can also grind the pieces into a powder to keep in a jar.
As hungry plants, pumpkins require a high level of nutrients to ensure a good harvest. Learn more about fertilising pumpkins in our separate article.