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When to Harvest Pumpkins

Pumpkin picking time is an anxiously anticipated fall activity for many.  If you’ve planted and nurtured a crop of pumpkins in your garden, you’ve undoubtedly been eager to harvest the fruits of your labor.

Before you get overzealous, it is vital to learn how and when to harvest pumpkins off of their vines so that you can get the most longevity out of your harvest. Whether you are picking pumpkins for food or as festive décor, check our tips for enjoying a bumper crop of pumpkins that lasts.

2 small orange pumpkins growing.

Determining Ripeness

It is essential to be able to decipher when pumpkins are prime for picking.  Pumpkins are fully ripe when they have a firm rind, and they have a robust color throughout. Pumpkins should have hard exterior shells that resist denting when you press a fingernail to them.

To further ensure their ripeness, you can also tap on the rind, and you should hear a nice hollow thump like a drum.  Pumpkins should never be picked purely based on the desired size, but rather on expected size per variety. Plant your pumpkin varieties to suit your desired size expectations. It’s also important to decide when to plant pumpkins to ensure they’re ready to harvest when you need them.  Harvesting pumpkins when they are fully mature makes them better suited for storing, and they will last longer.

When to Harvest Pumpkins

Once you identify that your pumpkins have reached their desired ripened state, start your pumpkin harvest on a dry day after the first hard frost. The frost will cause the vines to wither, but the pumpkins will withstand the elements.

Select a sharp knife or garden shears and cut the thick stem approximately three to four inches from the top of the pumpkin. This sized stem will help to ward off decay.

Once cut from the vine, use care when moving the pumpkins. Always carry pumpkins from the bottoms and not by the stems, although it may be tempting to do so.

Stems are rather delicate and can break off easily, exposing the pumpkin premature rot, pests, and disease. Although rinds are hard to the touch, they can still be dented, dinged up and bruised, so transport them gently.

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Curing and Storing Pumpkins

Pumpkins can be stored for two to three months if properly cured and kept. Pumpkins require curing for about ten days. Lay them in an area where the temperature is approximately 85 degrees to properly prepare the rind for storage.

After curing, store pumpkins in a cool and dry environment. Do not stack or pile up pumpkins. Instead, place them in a single layer where the rinds do not touch each other. Stacking or touching pumpkins will decrease air circulation, which can lead to decay of the fruit.

Unpicked pumpkins growing in pumpkin patch

Recommended Varieties

Pumpkins genuinely come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and textures. By carefully selecting your pumpkin varieties, you can create a harvest full of the desired look, size, and taste of your fruits.

In discussing when to harvest pumpkins we determined that it is vital to pick pumpkins only at their peak of ripeness, so selecting the right variety for you is essential. Luckily, there are hundreds of types to choose from, from those that can fit in the palm of your hand to prizewinners that would need heavy equipment to lift.

‘Jack Be Little’ are perfect little pumpkins that abundantly cling to their vines and will fit in the palm of your hand when mature.  They come in white and orange varieties and make charming decorations in the fall.

‘Small Sugar’ pumpkins are the quintessential pumpkin for cooking up in pumpkin pies.

‘Big Max’ is a prize-winning pale orange giant that can grow up to 300 pounds!

‘Connecticut Field’ pumpkins are a high- yielding, heirloom variety of large carving pumpkins that is sure to please. They grow to 15 to 25 pounds in size and have a classic pumpkin look and texture to their skins.

‘New Moon’ is a cultivar that boasts bright white smooth skin and tender flesh. It is a unique option for carving!

‘Cinderella’ boasts bright orange, showy fruits that are straight from a fairytale. They are great tasting and often used in pumpkin pie.

‘Fairy Tale’ pumpkins look like something out of a storybook. They have deep curved ridges and a milder toned rind than the traditional pumpkin cultivars. It is a French heirloom variety and is excellent for baking and cooking up into pies.

‘Blue Lakota’ falls into shades of blues and greens and is slightly ribbed in texture.

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