Harvesting pumpkins and squash

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS – With the early spring and warm temperatures this summer, gardeners may have had their pumpkins ripen early, and it may be a challenge to keep them until Halloween. However, with some extra effort, the storage life of pumpkins and winter squash can be maximized, according to Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension horticulturist.

Extend shelf life of pumpkins and squash

Burrows shares the following advice to help extend the shelf life of pumpkins and squash:

· Pumpkins and squash are warm season crops that are sensitive to temperatures below 45 degrees, and should be harvested before frost.

· For optimal storage life, pumpkins and winter squash should not be harvested until they are fully mature, with well-corked stems, and rinds hard enough that they cannot be easily punctured by a fingernail. Death of the vines doesn’t necessarily indicate that the squash is mature enough for successful fruit storage, especially if disease or drought has been a factor. If the fruit needs to be harvested before it is fully mature, be aware that it may not have developed full flavor or texture. It can ripen some after picking, but watch it carefully, as it may not keep for more than a few weeks.

· The stem should be cut from the vine, so that it stays with the fruit; this helps avoid stem-end rot.

· Use care in handling fruit, as any bruising or other physical damage will shorten shelf life. To decrease storage rots, space the fruit so that they are not touching each other in storage.

· Depending on the type of pumpkin or squash, it should last two to 6 months when stored at the ideal temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees F. A cool basement can work well. The fruit can withstand exposure to cooler temperatures, even down to 35 degrees, as long as they are exposed to warmer temperatures (around room temperature) soon afterwards, which will help reverse some of the chilling injury. Sustained storage temperatures above 80 degrees will reduce storage life and eating quality.

· The fruit should be dry when placed into storage. The ideal humidity is 50 to 70% relative humidity; with lower humidity the fruit may shrink some, but higher can allow disease to invade the fruit.

“While homeowners may not be able to achieve the optimal conditions, attention to proper harvest time, careful handling and avoidance of overly high or low temperatures during storage should help,” Burrows said.

To learn more, visit iGrow.org.