The other day, I brought my friend out to the garden and parted the vines of my ‘Howden’ pumpkin plant, revealing an enormous green fruit. I knew it had something to do with the green color changing to the classic rich orange that this cultivar typically exhibits.
As long as you know what to watch out for, you’re sure to pick your pumpkin at its prime, to enjoy as a Halloween decoration, pureed and baked in a pie, or slow-cooked to perfection in your favorite fall soup.
By monitoring your Cucurbit plants and keeping your eye out for these five signs, you won’t miss the perfect picking time. It all depends on your climate, the variety that you’ve planted, and the gourd’s growing conditions. An important thing to do is keep tabs on how long your plant has been growing and compare it to the days-to-maturity section on your seed packet.
But instead of using this timeframe as a hard and fast rule, just start keeping your eye out for signs of readiness once mid-August hits. So you’ll need to harvest them early and let them ripen indoors if you notice that the weather’s going to cool off significantly, or your first killing frost is on the way.
All immature gourds are green, so it’s common sense to assume that a pumpkin isn’t ripe until it turns orange, right? Sometimes a squash won’t turn fully orange even after the vine dies in the fall. Here’s the thing, though: if you’re going to cook your pumpkins soon after harvest, you can pick them when they’ve still got green spots. Along with color, one of the most important indicators of squash maturity is the shell, which should be hard and firm if you aim to keep a pumpkin around for a few months.
If your nail makes a small dent but does not puncture the skin, that’s a good sign that the rind has matured into a hard shell and it’s time to pick your Cucurbit. The shell will protect the pumpkin from pests and diseases after it’s picked, which means it can be featured as a bright spot of autumnal sunshine on your front porch for a nice, long time.
Say your gourd has mostly turned orange, and the vine around it is beginning to succumb to autumn’s cool temperatures.
If the stem of your gourd feels hard to the touch, as opposed to being slightly spongy, check the color. That’s a good sign that the vine is dying, and starting to taper down the amount of nutrients it gives to the gourd. The portion of stem that you leave on the gourd will actually continue to provide the last dregs of nutrients to the fruit, meaning it will last longer after it’s harvested.
Make sure you support the bottom and sides when you carry it, and leave the stem area clear. All you need to do is wipe the freshly cut fruit down with a dry cloth, and leave it in a warm, sunny spot for 10 days to two weeks.
If your area is extra hot, you may want to provide a few hours of shade each day so the skin doesn’t get sunscald. After a week and a half or so of curing, your pumpkin will store nicely in a cool (50°F or slightly higher), dark, dry place until you can cook it.