Pumpkins

Gourds

The trees are beginning to turn beautiful fall colors, the leaves are beginning to fall, and scary movies are starting to come back into the theatres. This must mean Halloween is on its way.

The best part of Halloween, to me, is the pumpkins. I love the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin and the look of the carved pumpkins on my front steps lit up for Halloween night. Pumpkins can be used for a variety of things throughout October and November and they can be grown in your garden right in your own backyard.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of garden plants, which includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini. We can use them for eating, roasting the seeds, and carving for a Halloween decoration. We can also store them and use them for Thanksgiving decorations.

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

If you grow pumpkins in your garden, it is now time to begin harvesting them, if you haven’t already started. Pumpkins can be harvested when they are mature in color and when they have a firm rind, when your fingernail does not puncture the rind when lightly pushed into it. It is best to remove all pumpkins prior to or within 1-2 days after a killing frost. Cut pumpkins off of the rind leaving 3-4 inches of stem on the pumpkin to help them resist organisms that lead to decay.

After the pumpkins are harvested, they should be cured to last longer in storage. Leave pumpkins in an area where they receive 80-85 degree temperatures with 80-90 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Pumpkins will store if not cured, but they will store longer, up to 3 months, if they are cured first. After cured, they are best stored in areas of 50-55 degree temperatures.

It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. However, you do not want to carve a pumpkin and use it for Halloween and then use it for making a pumpkin pie. A carved pumpkin is a perishable item, therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking if it has been left out, after being carved into, for more than 2 hours.

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Many people are concerned about the length of time a carved pumpkin will last on their front porch. The problem is that there isn’t a good treatment to get them to hold that carving for very long. The best idea is to wait until no more than one week before Halloween until you carve your pumpkin. It is best for the carving if you can do it as close to Halloween as possible. Another thing that will help with longevity of a pumpkin for Halloween is to ensure that you purchase or pick a pumpkin in good condition. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots, signs of decay, short stems, and other signs to show that decay has already begun in the pumpkin. If decay is already present in the pumpkin before you carve into it, it will ruin your carving that much sooner. If the weather is warm outside, store the pumpkins in a cool area until Halloween to keep the carving intact. Hopefully all of these tips can help you grow a great pumpkin and have a great pumpkin for Halloween. Happy Halloween!

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