Harvesting Pumpkins, Storing Seeds
The quintessential fall vegetable is, of course, the pumpkin. Master gardener Chris Dawson shows how to harvest this special squash and the best way to save seeds for the next season. Pumpkins are fairly easy to grow and, depending on variety, you can grow small, tender pumpkins all the way up to pumpkins that weigh more than 200 pounds. For Halloween fun, consider a jack-o'-lantern variety such as 'Connecticut Field', and for making pies, use a smaller, sweeter variety like the sugar pumpkin.
To harvest and store pumpkins:
- If foliage is shading the pumpkin, cut it back so that the pumpkin will ripen quicker.
- Leave the pumpkin on the vine until it has reached the color you want. Once it's picked, the color will stop developing.
- Pumpkins are ready to be cut from the vine when a fingernail cannot penetrate the skin; the skin should feel hard, almost like a shell.
- If you don't want to cut the pumpkins, you can simply let the vine die back and pick them at your leisure. Most people want them before that time, though.
- Another sign that a pumpkin is ready to be harvested is that the stem starts to crack.
- When harvesting, wear gloves because the stem can be very prickly. Use a sharp knife to cut the pumpkin from the vine. Try to leave a handle of at least four inches on the pumpkin.
- Handle carefully to avoid cuts and bruises.
- Don't carry pumpkins by their stems; the stem might not be able to support the weight and might break off.
- After cutting, expose the pumpkin to the sun for 10 days to cure it. This hardens the skin so that it forms a barrier and loses moisture more slowly, therefore enabling it to sit longer. While curing, if a frost threatens, cover the pumpkins at night with hay or floating row covers, available at garden centers.
- Store at about 50 to 60 degrees. At this temperature, they will last for about six months.
- When storing pumpkins, don't stack them. When the skins of pumpkins touch, it can cause bruising and rotting.
- Immediately remove and throw out any pumpkins that show signs of decay.
- Remove any leftover vines and put them on a compost pile.
If you want to use your pumpkin immediately, there's no need to cure it. Simply cut it open or cut off the top and scoop out the seeds and fiber, and it's ready for a pie or a jack-o'-lantern.
If you do decide to save your seeds, here's how to do it:
- Gather the seeds and rinse off all pulp.
- Lay them on a screen so they can get ventilation from all sides.
- Once dried, store in an envelope and keep them in a cool area where there is air but no sunlight.
- You can also store them in a jar with an anti-desiccant (those little packets of silica gel that come in new coats, shoes and purses).
- The seeds will last for several years if stored properly.