Winter Squash and Pumpkin – Harvesting & Storing

Source Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Growing and Harvesting winter hard skin (winter squash and pumpkins) is a dieing and for many people a lost art. Preserving your winter food supply without the need to process for freezing or canning is easy if you follow a few simple procedures.

Your objective of curing and storing is to prolong the storage life of the fruit by slowing the rate of respiration and protecting against storage rots. Respiration rate of fruit is most effectively controlled by lowering the temperature. For each 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) reduction in fruit temperature, the respiration rate is reduced by approximately one half. Chilling injury can occur, however, to some fruits at temperatures below 50 degrees F.

Even though relative humidity (air moisture) has little effect on respiration, a relatively high level (70 to 75%) is needed to protect against excessive dehydration (shriveling). Relative humidity greater than 85% can enhance disease development in stored winter squash.

Immature squash and pumpkins do not store well; therefore, be sure that fruit is mature before harvesting. Mature butternut, acorn and hubbard type squash have very hard skins that cannot be punctured with your thumb nail. Additionally, as squash mature, the fresh, bright, juvenile surface sheen changes to a dull, dry-appearing surface. Most true pumpkins have softer skin than those mentioned above but will exhibit the same surface appearance alterations.

Dead vines do not necessarily indicate the squash and pumpkins on the vines are mature. When vines die prematurely from disease, stress or early frost, fruits are usually immature, of low quality, and will not store as successfully as those grown on healthy vines which die naturally.

Guard Against Injury Whether in a home, garden or commercial planting, special care should be exercised to protect harvested fruit from excessively high (above 95%F) and cold (below 50%F) temperatures, asphyxiation, and mechanical injuries such as scratches, cuts or bruises. Ideally, large fruit, such as pumpkins, should not be stacked on top of each other. Padding material, such as straw, should be used liberally if fruits have to be stacked during harvest.

Curing and Storage facilities should be equipped with accurate temperature and humidity controls. There is limited information on the value of a curing period. Except for acorn types, which lose their quality during curing, experience tends to support a 10 day curing period with 80% to 85%F and a relative humidity of 80% to 85%. After the curing period, maintain temperatures as indicated in below.

Recommended optimum storage conditions for pumpkins and winter squash

Type

Relative

Humidity

Temperature

Conditions

Approx. Length

of Storage

Remarks

Pumpkins

50 to 75%

50 to 55oF

2 to 3 months

Fruit should be mature. Don’t store with apples.

Hubbards

70 to 75%

50 to 55oF

5 to 6 months

Stores well.

Acorn

50 to 75%

50oF

5 to 8 weeks

At temperatures >55oF, surface becomes
yellow and flesh becomes stringy.

Butternut or Buttercups

50 to 75%

50oF

2 to 3 months

Degree of maturity not as important as for other types.

Steps to Minimize Squash and Pumpkin Rots
* Avoid blossom-end rot of fruit by fertilizing and liming fields according to recommendations from soil test reports and by irrigating when needed.
* Avoid injuring fruit while on the vine.
* Harvest fruits when they are mature and the rind is hard, but before night temperatures are below 40%F and well before a frost or a hard freeze.
* Do not harvest or handle wet fruit. Do not let harvested fruit get wet.
* Harvest fruit by cutting the peduncle (stem) with pruning shears to leave a 3 to 4 inch handle for pumpkins and about a 1 inch stump for squash.
* Harvest, pack, handle, and store fruit carefully to avoid injuries.
* Discard all fruit that are immature, injured, or have rot or blemishes. These fruit should be fed to your pig or chickens.
* Do not pick up freshly harvested fruit by the peduncle(stem), because it may separate from the fruit and provide easy access for rot organisms.
* For better keeping, some growers cure pumpkins for 10 to 20 days at 80 to 85oF with good ventilation (e.g. four air exchanges per day).
* Harvested fruit should be stored with good ventilation (at least one air exchange per day) at 50% to 55%F and 50% to 75% relative humidity. Standard refrigeration temperatures (35% to 45%F) may cause chilling injuries and shorten shelf life. Storage at high temperature may result in excessive loss of weight, color, and culinary qualities.
* Storage life is typically 2 to 3 months without significant loss in quality.

Another point of view Storing Winter Squash – Northwest Edible Life

Hint * Tell your friends and neighbors to save their unwanted pumpkin seeds, you need them for Roasting.
* After Halloween, collect free pumpkins that are no longer need as Halloween decorations. Peel, cube and freeze for making pie and soup later this winter.

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5 responses to “Winter Squash and Pumpkin – Harvesting & Storing

  1. Pingback: Time to harvest the pumpkins | Faraway Fields

  2. Pingback: Time to harvest the pumpkins | Faraway Fields

  3. I live in Ireland and squashes & pumpkins aren’t so widely grown here as other vegetables, so it’s hard to get good local advice on growing and harvesting them. So thanks for all your information. I am currently watching my tunnel-grown pumpkins, butternut and acorn squashes and waiting patiently to start harvesting them.

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  4. Thanks for this! I have one pumpkin which might need to be picked before Halloween and I was wondering how best to preserve it.
    Last year, I lost a pumpkin due to its skin being punctured… while it was still growing. This year, I thought the same was going to happen, when I put a finger nail through the skin, but thankfully it is still intact :-)

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  5. very helpful information – thanks for posting

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