Halloween pumpkins are harvested in
September through October. Sometimes harvesting may start in
mid-August to early September, which requires good handling and
storage of the pumpkin fruit before selling to customers in late
The first frost occurs in early to
mid-October in northern parts of the state, when the pumpkin fruits
are still curing outside in the fields. The growers in pick-your-own
pumpkin operations use this method to ensure that pumpkins are
well-cured in the field before picked up by their customers. Some
growers practicing conventional pumpkin marketing systems -- where
the fruit is picked, washed, dried and sold to customers on weight
or per-fruit basis -- also use this method.
It is important to note that pumpkin
fruits can tolerate light frost that kill the vines only, but more
fruit loss can occur if the frost caused injury on the fruit
surface, as the damaged areas act as avenues for fungal and
bacterial fruit rot pathogens. Remove pumpkins from the fields
before the hard freeze (when the night temperatures are below 27
degrees F) or else you may risk losing 80 percent to 90 percent of
The pumpkin fruit is harvested when it
is uniformly orange and the rind is hard. Green, immature fruits may
ripen during the curing process but not after the vines are killed
by frost. The vines need to be dry when fruits are mature.
Handle the fruit with care to avoid
cuts and bruises. Harvest the fruit by cutting it off the vine with
a sharp knife or a pair of looping shears, leaving 3-6 inches of the
stem attached to the fruit. This makes the fruit look more
attractive and less likely to be attacked by fruit rot pathogens at
the point of stem attachment. Do not carry the pumpkin fruit using
the fruit stems, because the fruit is very heavy and may lead to
detachment of the fruit stem.
Wash the fruit with soapy water
containing one part of chlorine bleach to 10 parts of water to
remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit.
Make sure the fruits are well-dried before setting in a shed to
Pumpkin fruits are cured at 80-85
degrees and 80 percent to 85 percent relative humidity for 10 days.
This is done to prolong the post-harvest life of the pumpkin fruit
because during this process the fruit skin hardens, wounds heal and
immature fruit ripens. After curing, the fruits can be sold to
customers and the remaining fruits stored.
Store the fruits in a cool, dry place.
Put the fruits on a single layer on wooden pallets with enough space
in between the fruits (the fruits should not touch each other), and
do not place them on a concrete floor.
Improve the air circulation within the
storage area by letting in cool air at night, and use a fan to
circulate air during daytime. Do not let in warm air from outside
into the storage during the daytime.
The optimal storage condition is 50-55
degrees and relative humidity of 50 percent to 70 percent.
Maintaining relative humidity within this range is important because
high humidity leads to settling of moisture on fruit surfaces, which
increases decay of the fruit, and low relative humidity may cause
dehydration of the fruit. Under these conditions you can keep the
fruits for about two to three months.
Store the fruits away from apples since
apples produce ethylene gas as they ripen, which speeds up the
ripening process in pumpkins -- hence decreased shelf life. Check
the fruits regularly and remove the ones that are rotten because, if
not removed, they will spread the pathogens in the storage area.
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Winter squash such as butternut, acorn,
Hubbard and other types are mature when the skin (rind) is hard and
cannot be punctured by thumbnails. The mature fruit has a dull and
dry skin compared with shiny, smooth skin of immature fruits.
Remove the stem completely from Hubbard
types. If desired, leave only a 1-inch-long stump on the fruit.
Stems longer than 1 inch tend to puncture adjacent fruits when in
transit or storage.
Butternut, Hubbard and other squash
types do not need be cured, as the benefits are less compared with
pumpkins. Curing is very detrimental in acorn types as it leads to
decline in quality. Acorn types have the shortest storage time of
five to eight weeks at 50 degrees and relative humidity of 50
percent to 75 percent. Butternut, turban and buttercup types can be
stored at the same temperature and relative humidity as acorn types
but have a longer storage time of two to three months. The Hubbard
types can be stored much longer than the rest -- five to six months
-- at 50-55 degrees and relative humidity of 70 percent to 75
Winter squash should be marketed or
used immediately when taken out of storage to avoid development of
fruit rot diseases.
Gourds are of different flower colors
(yellow, white), shapes and sizes. They should be harvested before
frost when fruit is mature. As gourds mature, stems turn brown and
become dry. Don't use a "thumbnail" test on gourds, as it can cause
a dent on the shell of the unripe gourd and lower its quality.
Harvest the fruit by using a sharp
knife or shears to cut the stem from the vine, and leave a few
inches of the stem attached to the fruit. Do not handle the gourd by
its stem since the stem can easily detach from the fruit and lower
its decorative value.
If the fruit is dirty, wash in soapy
water to remove soil and rinse in clean water with household bleach.
One part to 10 parts water kills soil-borne pathogens. Then dry each
fruit with a soft cloth.
Spread the fruits so that they do not
touch each other on shelves lined with newspapers in a well-aerated
shed. Turn the gourds daily and change damp newspapers after one
week. The outer skin will harden this time and surface color
develops. The gourds need to be wiped with a damp cloth soaked in
household disinfectant and placed in a warm, dry, dark area for
three to four weeks for further curing.
The decorative gourd can stay in its
natural state for three to four months and for as long as six months
with a protective coat of paint or wax on the surface.
[University of Illinois news