About this time every year I receive questions related to when and how to harvest pumpkins and winter squash.
Pumpkins have become as much a part of fall in Dawson County as football and falling leaves. Sure, you can simply buy a pumpkin, but why not grow and harvest your own pumpkin.
Many people know how to grow winter squash and pumpkins, but are not sure when to harvest.
Harvest pumpkins when they become mature. At this stage, the rind is hard (resists denting by thumbnail pressure) and the pumpkin has developed the characteristic color of the pumpkin that you are growing.
As a general rule, vines that are naturally dying are indirect indicators of pumpkin maturity.
To ensure good keeping quality, mature pumpkins should be harvested prior to cold damage which increases the likelihood of storage rots.
When harvesting, leave three to four inches of stem. Pumpkins with stems removed do not store as well since the stem scars may let rot organisms enter the pumpkin.
Suggestions for harvesting and storing pumpkins and winter squash:
• Harvest the fruit when it is mature and the rind is hard, but before night temperatures are below 40 degrees and well before a frost or a hard freeze.
• Harvest the fruit when it is dry.
• Harvest, handle and store fruit carefully to avoid injuries.
• Discard all fruit that is immature, injured or has rots or blemishes.
• Do not pick up freshly harvested fruit by the stem since many will separate from the fruit and provide easier access for rot organisms.
• Do not permit harvested or stored fruit to get wet.
• Usually pumpkins are not washed, but if washing is necessary be sure the water is chlorinated.
For better keeping, some growers cure pumpkins for 10 to 20 days at 80 degrees to 85 degrees with good ventilation.
Harvested fruit should be stored with good ventilation at temperatures from 50 degrees to 55 degrees and relative humidity between 50 to 75 percent.
Refrigeration temperatures (35-40 degrees) may cause chilling injuries and shorten shelf life.
Recommendations for storage of winter squash are similar to those for pumpkins.
After harvest, cure winter squash for 10 days at 80 to 85 percent.
For prolonged storage, a temperature of 55 degrees and a relative humidity of 60 percent is preferred.
For more information on pumpkins and winter squash, contact the Dawson County Extension Office at (706) 265-2442.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.