Pumpkins are great for cooking as well as carving. If you’re growing them for the first time and are curious about the harvesting process, you’ve come to the right place. Learn how and when exactly to harvest pumpkins.
It usually takes pumpkins about 80 to 100 frost-free days to fully grow. It’s harvest time when your pumpkin has grown to its full extent and the vines start to wither and die. It’s also best to harvest your pumpkins if the vines are rotting as it is unlikely for them to grow any further. Harvesting pumpkins is tricky business. Along with ensuring that you cut the stem a few inches from the pumpkin to avoid early rotting, there are other technicalities you need to take care of.
Planting, growing and harvesting pumpkins can be time-consuming and a hefty task but the hassle is almost always worth it. They are American natives and require a long growing season. If you provide them with the necessary care and fulfill its required conditions, your pumpkins will thrive and your harvest will be successful. Let’s first talk about when to harvest pumpkin and then we can move forward to the actual process.
When to Harvest Pumpkins
There are a few tactics to know that your pumpkin fruit is ripe enough to be harvested. Although distinctive species require different periods of time to grow mature, the process is identical for all pumpkins. Here's more information about how to grow pumpkins successfully, and as well as a post about how long it takes to grow pumpkins from seed to fruit.
Once you’ve selected your site, planted the seeds, and provided your plant with the optimum soil and other necessary requirements, you wait for the blooms to appear. After their appearance and successful pollination, your pumpkin fruit begins to grow. Here's a post explaining how many pumpkins to expect per vine.
Now there are a few factors you need to consider after the pumpkin growth stage to figure out if it’s harvest time or not.
Firstly if there are no signs of frost in your surroundings, the foliage and the vines are really healthy and thriving, know that your pumpkin is going to continue to grow. However, if the case is opposite; the foliage is attacked by pests, diseases and severe infections then the leaves and vines will wither and die. Once that happens, there won’t be any foliage left for your fruit to feed on and no matter the size of your pumpkins, harvest them as they won’t be growing any further.
Once you’ve figured out if your pumpkin plant is healthy or not move to the fingernail test. All you need to do is poke your fingernail in the pumpkin rind. The rind needs to be firm; if you harvest it when it’s too soft then your fruit is likely to rot in a few days. If the pumpkin has completely achieved its color according to the variety you have planted and your fingernail doesn’t leave an imprint then it’s time to harvest.
You can also check the vine and the stems to know the harvest time, although it’s not a mandatory step. See that the plant isn’t infected in any way and the vine starts to dry off and pull away from the pumpkin stems. The vine may wither, twist and become drier. If you see these signs on the main vine, you’ve executed the fingernail test, and your pumpkin has fully developed its respective color then it’s time to enjoy the fruitful outcomes of your hard work and efforts!
Once you’ve established that your pumpkin is, in fact, ready to be harvested, move to the next step.
How to Harvest Pumpkins
Here is a step by step procedure to harvest your precious pumpkins:
A jagged blade might cause diseases to occur in the pumpkin and encourage early rotting. Therefore it’s essential to start by cutting the stem with sharp pruning shears or a knife. Make sure you cut the stem several inches from the pumpkin. Twisting and pulling your pumpkin directly from the vine might be enticing once you see your fruit ready but as they say, just because it’s easier, doesn’t mean it is better. Doing so can cause your pumpkin fruit to damage.
Cut your pumpkin using a pair of sharp pruning shears or gardening scissors from the vine and leave a few inches of the stem connected to the fruit while making your cut. In case you remove the stem completely, it is best practice to consume the fruit as early as possible as it will probably spoil. If you see that your pumpkin has softened, is overripe, or has already spoilt before harvest, then use it for compost rather than letting it go to waste.
Now use 10% bleach solution to wipe and disinfect your pumpkin after harvest. Any harmful organisms residing on the pumpkin will be killed. If you wish to eat the pumpkin the same day, wait for a few hours for the solution to evaporate and wash thoroughly before consuming it.
Once you’ve successfully harvested your fruit, move to the next step.
Storage after Harvest
If you want to store your pumpkins for a long period, wash them with a mild chlorine solution. Make a solution of chlorine and water in a ratio of 1 to 16 parts respectively. This will help in destroying any bacteria that may cause the pumpkins to rot. Let the pumpkins dry completely.
Store your fruit in a warm place where the temperature is around 25ºC for about 2 weeks. This will ensure a longer life span. After this, store your fruit in a cool, dry place with temperatures between 10ºC to 12ºC.
Here are some other things to know about pumpkin storage:
- Pumpkins can typically be stored from one to three months.
- It is good practice to store pumpkins in a cool, dry, and dark place. Hot and humid areas are to be avoided at all times.
- They are best stored on a piece of cardboard. Do not keep them on a cement floor or a rug.
- You can also freeze your pumpkins to increase their life span. Simply cut the pumpkin into small pieces, and bake, boil, or steam them. Remove the soft fruit from the skin and store in an air-tight jar in the freezer. You can freeze the cubes directly or mash the pumpkin into a puree before freezing.
Following are the answers to some frequently asked questions related to pumpkin harvest:
When do pumpkins turn orange?
All pumpkins fully develop their color once they reach their harvest time. As they continue to grow, they keep forming a brighter color. After your pumpkin plant has successfully passed through all its growth stages, its color turns into a vibrant and beautiful orange.
Note: The color of the pumpkin will depend on the variety you’ve planted. Make sure you check with the manufacturer of the seeds to know what color will your pumpkin form once it has fully grown.
How to tell when pumpkins are ripe?
Following are four ways to check if your pumpkins are ripe:
When a pumpkin has grown completely, it develops its color all the way around. They are usually of a bright-orange shade, but the colors differ according to the variety of pumpkin you’ve planted.
Give your pumpkin a thump, if it sounds hollow then it is very likely that the pumpkin has grown mature and is ready for harvest.
Fingernail test can be performed to check the ripeness of a pumpkin. Simply jab your fingernail in the rind, if it punctures or dents then the fruit isn’t ripe yet.
When the stem starts to dry off, twist, shrivel and turn hard then your pumpkin is ripe and ready for harvest.
How long do pumpkins last off the vine?
If stored properly, pumpkins last for 4-9 weeks off the vine. Cut the stem a few inches from the pumpkin and store your fruit in a warm place where the temperature is around 77ºF for about 14 days. After this, store your fruit in a cool, dry place with temperatures between 50ºF to 54ºF. If you want them to last longer than this period, use freezing or canning methods to ensure a longer life span.
What month of the year are pumpkins usually ready for picking?
As pumpkins need frost-free days and warm soil to thrive, you need to plant the seeds keeping the harvest time in mind. It is best practice to harvest pumpkins in late September or early October before heavy frosts settle in.
For a successful harvest, you need to provide proper maintenance and care to your pumpkin plant. Pumpkin vines are known to be prone to powdery mildew and bacterial wilt. Therefore it’s essential to take preventive measures or else these diseases can take over and kill your entire crop.
The vines retain their lush green shade and stay healthy until it is time to harvest the fruit. During that time, the vines start to shrivel, die, and decompose. You don’t need to panic at all when that happens as it is simply an indication that harvest time has arrived! Gather your crop and enjoy the fruity results!
Check out this list of 23 things to do with pumpkins - beyond cooking and decorating!