Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture expert Ashley Edwards says that before families head out to a pumpkin patch to pick their perfect pumpkin, it’s important to wait until pumpkins are fully mature before harvesting and to carve them as close to Halloween as possible to avoid early rotting.
Before harvesting pumpkins, Edwards offers the following tips:
Prevent rotting by waiting until maturity to harvest and avoiding freezing temperatures.
Mature pumpkins have hard, shiny shells that can’t be easily punctured by a fingernail.
Cure the pumpkin (allow the skin to harden) by allowing it to remain in the garden during dry, sunny weather, ideally 80-85 degrees F, for about 7-14 days.
Prior to carving, store pumpkins in well-ventilated areas to extend their lifespan before they rot.
Place pumpkins in a well-ventilated storage area, preferably protected from rain.
According to Edwards, pumpkins will retain good quality for approximately two to three months if they are stored at the appropriate relative humidity (50-70 percent) and temperature (50-55°F).
Once the pumpkin is carved, Edwards says to use petroleum jelly on the inside and outside of the pumpkin to keep it hydrated. “Try using battery-operated lights instead of real candles to prevent wilting,” Edwards says. She also suggests spraying the outside of the pumpkin with clear acrylic spray to help keep pests and bacteria away.”
Edwards says that after Halloween, pumpkins can be disposed of by adding them to the compost pile as a good use of the leftover organic matter for future gardening.
Ashley Edwards is the Horticulture Extension Agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension. She serves the needs of producers including the production, harvesting, marketing, and distribution of vegetables, small fruits, tree fruits, alternative specialty crops, and greenhouse crops. She also works with growers to assist them in attaining food safety certification such as USDA GAP and Harmonized GAP, as well as to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.