Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Harvesting your Pumpkins By Joyce D’Agostino

Rouge Vif D'Etampes (Cucurbita maxima) photo by Joyce D'Agostino

This growing season was a challenge for most of us due to the heat and lack of rain. Many pumpkin growers this year reported their crops maturing weeks earlier than the normal schedule due to the extreme drought conditions.

If you grew pumpkins this year, now is the time to prepare them for harvest and storage. Knowing when to cut and store your pumpkins is important.  Pumpkins are not only suitable for eating but are great for fall decorating and carving. Like winter squash, pumpkins take most of our growing season to produce the pumpkin. Choosing the right variety for your climate helps you achieve a successful fall pumpkin harvest.

Sugar Pie (Curcurbita pepo) photo by Joyce D'Agostino

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when their stems appear dry and the skin resists penetration by a thumbnail. This Planttalk bulletin gives a great summary of the tips for harvesting: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1829.html.  However, given weather uncertainty, be sure to follow the directions in this bulletin and watch weather forecasts for any predictions of hard frosts. Pumpkins can tolerate cooler temperatures and even light frosts but will be damaged if exposed to a hard freeze.

Pumpkins are also high in beta carotene and other nutrients, so they are healthy additions to your cooking and baking. They also store very well which means that if you can’t use it at the time you harvest, you can hold them at the right temperature and use as you need them.

Due to its acidity and density, pumpkin puree cannot be safely canned at home even with a pressure canner. The USDA recommends freezing as the best way to preserve your puree. Simply bake your pumpkin wedges at about 350 degrees and when tender scoop it out of the skin, discard the skin and puree in a food mill or food processor. Don’t forget to save the seeds and bake them for a great fall treat.

This year I grew Sugar Pie Pumpkins (Curcurbita pepo). They are not large pumpkins, but valued for their sweet flavor and smooth texture, perfect for pie filling.

When you begin to choose which pumpkins to grow, you will see that online seed sources or their catalogues have many types and sizes to choose from including heirlooms and mini sizes up to the large Atlantic Giant which are grown each year in competitions for “Biggest Pumpkin”.

Here are a few publications to help you select and grow a great pumpkin: