How to Harvest Winter Squashes and Pumpkins

This time of year is pretty exciting, for some of us it might already be time, and others will be patiently waiting to harvest those long-awaited pumpkins and winter squashes.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin

From a sowing in April, they should be almost done by now and ready to tuck up into your pantry for eating over winter. Winter squashes and pumpkins are highly valued for their tough skins that make them perfect for storing. They can store for an entire year if they are kept somewhere cool, dark and safe from the frost.

But in order to be able to store them for this long, we have to harvest them correctly, and at the right time, or we risk losing all our hard work.

So when harvesting winter squashes and pumpkins the first thing we need to do is check the stems. If the stems are still green, they will still be pumpkin nutrients and water into your fruit. This is great, but when it comes to harvesting we need the fruit to be sealed off from the rest of the plant. This is because if the fruit is not sealed there is a chance of infections being able to get into the fruit and the chance of it going rotten skyrockets! Pumpkins and winter squashes will seal themselves, but we have to allow them to do it.

So how do we know when it’s time? Quite simply, the stems will die off. When the stem supplying the fruit has turned brown and is no longer looking like an alive part of the plant – the chances are that seal around the fruit has been made.

Unfortunately, we could be hit by an early frost which necessitates harvesting our winter squashes and pumpkins early so that we don’t lose them. In which case it is best practice to eat them sooner rather than later, or just keep an eye on them and make sure to eat them before they start to rot.

When we harvest, whether we are cutting green or brown stems, it’s a good idea to leave a bit of them stem in place. We do this by finding where the stem from the fruit joins the main vine and cutting the main vine either side. What we will be left with then is a “T” shape on our fruit.

T-Shape on the stem, with some leaf stems still attached

What this does is allow the vines to die off, or to die-off further and gives the fruit some opportunity to form a seal around itself. If we cut too close to the stem of the fruit we risk removing the naturally built seal and opening up an infection site.

A word of warning: Some squashes or pumpkins will develop lesions in their stems, or the stems will become damaged one way or another. These fruits will not store well and therefore you should prioritise eating these ones first!

For more information check out my little video on harvesting winter squashes and pumpkins:

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Published by sowmuchmore

Ecologist and Botanist by training, now most often found pottering around my no dig kitchen garden. I love sharing gardening tips and advice based on science, and teaching people how to employ plants and nature to work for you

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