If you’re like us, then you probably haven’t been spending your summer days at pool parties or drive-in movies; but growing pumpkins in your garden! While many associate these vibrant and diverse vegetables with the fall, they are actually grown all summer long.
With that said, that doesn’t mean they’re ripe for picking in the summer. While your pumpkins might look fully grown already, you’ll need to have patience and wait for the right moment to harvest them.
If this is your first time growing pumpkins, you might not know when the best moment will be to harvest your crop. Luckily, we’ve put together a nifty guide to help!
How Do You Know When To Harvest Pumpkins?
Signs Your Pumpkin is Ready to be Harvested
Consider Seasonal Changes & Leaf Health
When the weather starts to change, and days become chillier, this is typically a sign that harvesting time is approaching. However, if frost isn’t being predicted in the weather forecast, you’re better off leaving your pumpkins on the vine.
This is because they will continue to keep growing, as long as the vine and leaves are healthy and intact. With that said, leaves can oftentimes die due to disease or insects. If this happens, you should consider picking your pumpkins off the vine, as there are no leaves left to keep them nourished and growing.
Pay Attention to Rind Color & Firmness
The rind (also referred to as the skin) of your pumpkin is the first part you should check when it comes to knowing if your pumpkins are ready to be harvested or not.
Depending on the type of pumpkins you’re growing — and there are a lot of them — you’ll want to ensure the pumpkin is fully colored. For instance, if you’re growing Jack-o’-Lanterns, your pumpkins should be orange. Other types, such as Baby Boos and Luminas, can be a white or off-white color when fully ripened.
Additionally, you should also check to see if the rind is firm enough. You can do this by pressing your fingernail (or another object) into the rind; if it effortlessly creates an indentation in the skin or pierces it, then the pumpkin is not ready yet.
It’s important not to pick your pumpkins when they’re not firm enough yet, as this can cause them to shrivel quickly (sometimes within a day or two). If you’re concerned about altering the pristine appearance of your pumpkin, you can do your firmness test on the back of it or somewhere you won’t be able to notice any marks you might make in the process.
Check The Pumpkin’s Stem & Vine
Beyond checking at the rind, you should also pay attention to the pumpkin’s stem and vine. If you notice that the vine itself is beginning to dry off and pull away from the stem — which can shrivel, twist, and become even more dry — then this is another sign that it is time to harvest.
Keep in mind, it’s not necessary to check the stem and vine. You can harvest your pumpkins based on the color and firmness alone.
Hard Frost is in the Forecast
Many plants and vegetables (including pumpkins) can survive a brief period of frost. However, if you have a hard frost in the forecast — which essentially means a period of 4 hours where temperatures are below 28 degrees — then you may want to harvest your pumpkins beforehand.
A hard frost can threaten the survival of your pumpkins and shorten the amount of time you’ll be able to store them; so, even if they are not fully colored and firm, you shouldn’t be shy to pick them.
As long as your pumpkin has already started to turn its final, mature color, it will be able to ripen while being off the vine. With that said, allowing your pumpkin to naturally mature and grow fully on the vine is always the best option.
When & How to Harvest Your Pumpkins
Expert gardeners recommend harvesting your pumpkins on a dry, sunny day. If the vines are still healthy, and have not been attacked by mildew, insects or frost, then this should take place in late September or early October. The key is to pick your pumpkins before hard frosts and frigid temperatures begin.
First things first, before harvesting, you should have a pair of gardening gloves on to keep your hands safe from the sharp vines.
Using a hand pruning tool (a sharp knife will also work), cut the vine. What side of the stem you cut the vine on does not matter, however, you should leave a few inches (around 5-6) of the stem behind. Don’t worry about any excess pieces of vine, as these can be trimmed away later.
The stem is very important, as it is a seal, and is what keeps the pumpkin from decaying and rotting quickly. Be careful not to pull the stem away from the pumpkin. This can occur if you choose to carry the pumpkin by its stem, so NEVER do this.
Without its stem, a pumpkin will be vulnerable to organisms that can cause it to rot, spoil, and decay. In other words, if you want a healthy pumpkin for the optimal amount of time, then make sure the stem stays intact!
What to do After You Harvest Your Pumpkins
Once you have harvested your pumpkins, you should pull the entire vine from the ground. Many gardeners choose to use vines as compost, which is a great way to reuse and recycle them. However, if the vines suffered disease (from mildew, for example) then they should be discarded.
You can bag them up and throw them in with your garbage, or consider sending them to a municipal composting facility. These facilities heat compost up enough to eliminate any fungus spores.
For more tips and guidance on growing and harvesting pumpkins, stay up to date with the Minnetonka Orchards blog. With the fall season quickly approaching — bringing with it 2 holidays that are ideal for pumpkins including Halloween and Thanksgiving — you won’t want to miss it!