Storing Winter Squash and Pumpkins
Whether you grew pumpkins and winter squash or if you are purchasing pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving there are ways to prolong their shelf life. The key is to slow the rate of respiration and protect against storage rots.
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. Pumpkins have softer skin but will exhibit a slightly duller appearance when mature. Dead vines do not necessarily indicate the squash and pumpkins are mature. Vines can die prematurely from disease, stress or early frost.
Special care should be exercised to protect harvested fruit from excessively high (>95°F) and cold (<50°F) temperatures, asphyxiation, and injuries such as scratches, cuts or bruises. Not only are injuries unsightly, they also provide an easy entrance for various rot-producing organisms.
Steps to minimize squash and pumpkin rots include:
1. Harvest fruits when they are mature and the rind is hard, but before night temperatures are below 40°F.
2. Do not harvest or handle wet fruit. Do not let harvested fruit get wet.
3. Harvest, handle, and store fruit carefully to avoid injuries.
4. Do not pick up freshly harvested fruit by the stem, because it may separate from the fruit and provide easy access for rot organisms.
5. Washing is usually not desirable, but if washing is necessary, be sure the water is chlorinated (approximately one part 5.25% liquid bleach to 99 parts water). Prepare fresh wash solution when the water becomes cloudy and chlorine cannot be detected. Dry thoroughly.
6. Harvested fruit should be stored with good ventilation at 50 to 55°F and 50 to 75% relative humidity.
7. Storage life is typically 2 to 3 months without significant loss in quality.
For more information, call the Wilson Extension Master Gardeners at 252-237-0113 Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 1-3 PM or email any time at email@example.com.