Synonymous with fall and Halloween, pumpkins bring joy to children and provide a new ingredient to bake with. Pumpkins need to be harvested in the fall but their timing is as much about when they are ready as what the weather is doing.
Let’s dive into when to harvest pumpkins so you can enjoy these gourds in all their glory.
When to harvest pumpkins? Pumpkins are ready in September or October and need to be properly grown before you can harvest them. The leaves and vines should have died back and your pumpkins should be their full size.
For orange varieties, look for a deep color. Even with white pumpkins, look for a bright white hue. The stems should be hard, and so too should the outer rind. You can always knock on the outside of the pumpkin and listen for a hollow sound to confirm if they are ready.
Once all these signs have been met, you can take gardening shears or sharp scissors to cut them off the vine. Leave a few inches of stem. This not only acts as a décor element, but it also prolongs their lifespan.
After they have been harvested, leave your pumpkins to cure in the sun for a few days to harden up the skin. Then, you can store them in a shaded area or a cool area.
How do you know when your pumpkins are ready to harvest?
First, remember that pumpkins take a while to grow. While most varieties take 80 to 85 days to mature, some varieties can take as long as 100 days.
Second, you want to wait until your pumpkin is actually ready before harvesting it. Some people want small pumpkins so they simply pick their pumpkins when they are smaller.
In reality, this can lead to your pumpkins rotting a lot earlier than desired. If you want small pumpkins, it’s better to plant seeds that result in smaller-sized pumpkins.
Around September and into October, your pumpkins will be ready to harvest, depending on when you planted them and what type of variety they are.
An important sign to consider with pumpkins is their color. While not all pumpkins will be orange, most are. Your pumpkins should have a lovely, deep orange color. A lighter shade and they aren’t ready yet.
Another important sign is that your pumpkin should sound hollow. Make your hand into a fist and gently knock on the outside of it. If it is hollow, it is ready to harvest.
Finally, the outer part of the pumpkin, the rind, should be nice and hard. If it is mushy, it is beyond ripe or possibly rotten. While you can technically still harvest it, it won’t last for very long.
What happens if you don’t harvest pumpkins?
Unharvested pumpkins will quickly start to rot. October is a rainy month in most locations and if your pumpkin is still on the vine when the rain sets in, the outer rind will quickly become damaged.
Furthermore, pumpkins need to be harvested before the threat of frost sets in. Once temperatures dip too low, these gourds will become damaged and turn to rot.
The good news is that pumpkins are dense in nutrients that your garden will love. Once they break down, your garden will be happier with organic matter.
Along with this breaking down, your garden will be exposed to hundreds of pumpkin seeds. The result could be a very large pumpkin patch the following year.
While this might sound ideal, it’s better to separate the seeds and save them to be planted where you want next spring.
What happens if there is an unexpected frost?
One of the perils of gardening in the fall is that the weather can be unpredictable. Mild temperatures can quickly plummet at night and if an early frost happens, it can be devastating for your crops.
After a frost, be sure to head out to your garden to assess the damage. A mild frost probably won’t damage too much, while a deep freeze may have ruined all your hard work.
With a mild frost, check the leaves of your pumpkins. Those affected will be wilted and mushy-looking. Anything that is clearly dead should be cut away.
There is hope if leaves closer to the ground are still alive. This means that your plant has a chance to recover, allowing your pumpkins to continue growing.
If you have some pumpkins that are almost ready, now is the time to harvest them anyway. Move them to a cool, dark place, such as a garage or shed.
Removing larger pumpkins will hopefully allow smaller pumpkins that are still growing the chance to get more nutrients. It is also a measure of protection for larger pumpkins against the threat of more frost.
Move any smaller pumpkins so they are in full sun. Pumpkins love heat and you want to give them as much support as possible.
The colder the frost, the more damage there will be. Check the weather from the night before to give you a better sense of the severity.
Under 27 degrees can spell disaster. If this is the case, harvest everything as the vines are most likely damaged beyond help.
How to harvest pumpkins?
Now that it is fall and your pumpkins are large, deep in color, and have a hollow sound to them, it’s time to harvest them.
One other consideration when harvesting is the weather. Even if your pumpkins aren’t quite ready, but there’s a cold snap in the forecast, it’s better to harvest them a few weeks in advance instead of risking total damage due to frost or freezing temperatures.
To harvest your pumpkins, it’s important to use either a sharp knife or pruning shears. You don’t want to tear the stem but rather leave it with a nice, clean-cut.
Leave about 2 inches of stem on your pumpkin. Not only is this a nice aesthetic accent but it will actually slow the rate of decay after being harvested.
Pumpkin vines can be rather tough so you will need a strong hand while cutting. However, be gentle with your pumpkin. If it is dropped or handled too roughly, it can easily bruise, which will lead to rot.
Should you wash pumpkins after harvesting?
Pumpkins can definitely be washed after harvesting. In fact, there’s a good chance they will have at least some mud or dirt on them.
While you don’t want to soak your pumpkins, you can take a damp cloth and give them a good wipe down.
If you are planning on using your pumpkins for decoration, or even don’t want to cook with them yet, you will need to store them.
The first step of storing pumpkins is to cure them in the sun. Leave them in a dry, sun-filled area for a week. This toughens the skin, making the gourd more durable.
Once cured, you can then transfer your pumpkins to a cool, dark place, such as a root cellar. This way they will actually last for weeks, if not months.
Can you eat pumpkins immediately after harvesting?
Pumpkin needs to be cooked first so technically, you can’t eat pumpkins immediately after harvesting them. Furthermore, while technically all pumpkins are edible, some are much better tasting than others.
For example, if you want to make some delicious pumpkin pie, then you should purchase pie varieties. These will be smaller in size and have fewer fibrous insides.
Larger pumpkin varieties can be used in soups and even curries. They will be more fibrous, so you want to really roast the pumpkin well to break everything down.
You can also use small pumpkin rinds to make soup bowls that will really delight any dinner guests.
How to save pumpkin seeds?
When carving your masterpiece of a jack-o-lantern, take a bit of time in the end to save your pumpkin seeds. Then, they can either be transformed into a healthy, yummy snack or be used to start your pumpkin patch the following year.
Separate the pumpkin seeds from the pulp. Then, place them in a colander and give the seeds a really good rinse. There should be no pulp left on them.
Transfer the clean pumpkin seeds to a cookie sheet lined with a paper towel or wax paper. Make sure they are all on one level.
Let the seeds dry and then flip them over. Leave them to dry more. This should take about a day.
Next, comes more drying time. Leave them on the tray and place them in a cool dark place for about a month.
After this, check for any mold. Then, place the good seeds in an envelope. When you’re ready the next year, they are great for planting. Amazingly, pumpkin seeds can actually last for up to six years.
Pumpkins are a beautiful, natural way to decorate for fall. They are also full of nutrients and a wonderful addition to cooking and baking.
Ready in September and October, look for deep colors and a hollow sound. Use a sharp knife to harvest them and you’ll be able to decorate your front porch with some brilliant colors.