Monday, 1 October 2012

Harvesting Pumpkins and Squashes

cinderella, buttercup, musquee de provence,uchiki kuri and mixed winter squash
Saturday dawned sunny and bright and despite a generous sleep in (and lazy longwinded breakfast) there was still plenty of time in the afternoon for the important jobs of harvesting root crops and pumpkins. I have this debate with myself every year-when should I harvest the pumpkins? surely the thing to do is to leave them on the plant until close to halloween? but then over the years I found early autumn frosts destroyed pumpkins when I wasn't looking, and when I was looking I worried incessantly about them, dashing out at night to put jackets on them at the slightest mention of frost after the nine o clock news.All that frost anxiety is enough to make you go lu la! I sat in the garden one afternoon this summer looking up d'internet in the hopes of getting some inspiration.And it turned out I did, there are two important SIGNS for when you can harvest your pumpkins.

you can see the cracking and changing colour on the stem here
Over the past few weeks I began watching the pumpkins closely looking for these signs. One sure sign is when the stems start to change colour, crack and turn corky. At this stage they won't grow any bigger as the fruit is starting to ripen. The other sign is the skin thickening up as part of the ripening process. So another way to check if they are getting ready to harvest is the push your finger nail into the skin gently, if it dosen't break the skin the pumpkin is ready to be harvested. Don't keep poking at it! Damage to the skin will make the pumpkin go off in record time so do this very carefully, don't actually try to puncture it!

leave a "cork on the bottle" when you cut the pumpkin from the plant
If you read up on how to harvest pumpkins a lot of people tell you to leave a few inches of the stem going into the pumpkin intact. They are dead right -this is the most important thing to do in order to cure and store the pumpkin long term. But many online websites call this extra stem "a handle" and that is a really bad analogy to use. For one thing you can't hold the pumpkin by it's stem because it's too much weight for the stem and if the stem breaks the pumpkin can't be stored- it will just go off. So don't think of it as a handle, think of it as the cork for a wine bottle, if the cork falls out the wine goes off. Once you have cut the pumpkins from the plant and you are picking them up to take them inside hold them from the underneath to support their weight.

my trained pumpkin handler holds a cinderella pumpkin
Finally the Pumpkins have to cure. Usually it takes about two weeks sitting under glass (glasshouse/tunnel/cold frame/south facing pathway with shelter-no rain) to get the skins a nice uniform colour all the way round and the stems cured to rock hard corkiness. You must turn the pumpkins every few days to ensure the skin is hardening up evenly on all sides especially any sides that are paler coming in because of being in contact with the soil or away from the sun when they were growing. After that you move them to a nice cool place with an even temperature of about 15c, no sunshine or heat. I use my north facing hallway. Once you check them every now and again they should store for several months. You do need to check them though, one day it's a pumpkin the next its a pile of stinking mush and oozing juices-not pretty.

curing at the back door

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