Use care when harvesting and handling pumpkins

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Column by David Harrison, Extension Agent

By David Harrison

Pumpkins are a symbol of the fall season, and several acres are grown locally. Whether you grow or buy pumpkins, it is important to realize that careful harvesting and handling will help them last.

Pumpkins should be harvested as soon as they are ripe and show a good orange color. Ripe pumpkins can be left in the field for a period of time and can tolerate light frost. Do not try to harvest when the fruit and vines are wet since this can lead to the development of fruit rot.

The best time to harvest is during sunny, dry weather. Cut vines with a pair of shears and leave four to five inches of stem, or handle, attached to the pumpkin to further reduce the chance for rot. Any pumpkins that display signs of rot should be left in the field since these will not store for very long.

Damaged pumpkins are much more likely to rot, so handle each fruit carefully to avoid bruising or puncturing the rind. Be sure to store pumpkins in a cool, dry location. To prolong the life of the fruit avoid exposure to direct sunlight as much as possible. Also, store pumpkins in a single layer to promote better air movement, which creates a less favorable environment for bacteria and fungi.

As a consumer, avoid buying pumpkins that show any signs of rot. Also, steer clear of fruit that do not have handles or have handles in poor condition or are rotting. Handle pumpkins with care on the way home and store them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

Once a pumpkin is carved, its days are numbered. After cutting, exposed surfaces become colonized with fungi and bacteria. The warmer the weather, the quicker bacteria and fungi will break down the fruit.