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How To Store Pumpkins (Winter Squash)

25 June 2011 6 Comments

GreenerMe asked on my previous post about growing pumpkins how long pumpkins could be stored for. It may surprise you that with proper care, the good storage varieties of pumpkins will keep for 6-12 months!

(Note when I say “pumpkin” here, I’m using Australian usage – North Americans please substitute your term “winter squash”.)

Jap pumpkins ready for storage

The key is in understanding what factors lead to deterioration of your pumpkins, and addressing those factors in your storage system.

Fungus and mold will develop on pumpkins if moisture is allowed to sit on their skins. If they get too hot or too cold, the skin will weaken and the flesh will start to break down. Damage (nicks, wounds, bruises) will give fungus and bacteria an entry point, and the pumpkin will turn rapidly.

Vermin like rats and mice also love pumpkins and have been known to dig a tunnel into the center and set up a home inside!

Harvesting Pumpkins For Storage

Let your pumpkins ripen fully on the vine before picking them. Wait for the vine to begin dying back if you can, but you will need to pick them before you get a hard freeze. A light frost shouldn’t harm them; in fact many people claim it will harden their skins and prolong their shelf life.

Leave a long piece of stem attached to each pumpkin when you pick them. Don’t carry pumpkins by the stalk, and handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. If the stalk is damaged or falls off, seal the attachment point by melting candle wax into it.

Leave the pumpkins in full sun for a couple of weeks before bringing them in for storage (cover or move them if it looks like rain). This will toughen the skin and improve their shelf life. The chook shed or dunny roof is the traditional place to harden off pumpkins!

Storing Pumpkins

Before storing your pumpkins, wipe their skin down with a soft rag soaked in olive oil. This will remove any dirt and foreign matter, and the thin layer of oil will help prevent moisture getting into the skin. If you are storing pumpkins for many months, repeat this wipe-down occasionally.

The best storage place is somewhere cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated. A shed or garage, under-house storage area, or covered verandah can be excellent. The ideal storage temperature is around 12 C (about 55 F).

Pumpkins should be lifted off the ground to improve airflow around them, and should not be touching each other. Place them on newspaper or straw, on top of chicken wire or timber slats. Store them on their side, so that moisture doesn’t accumulate in the hollow around the stem.

Don’t store pumpkins near apples, pears or other ripening fruit. The ethylene gas the fruit gives off will hasten the deterioration of your pumpkins.

Check your stored pumpkins regularly. Remove (eat or discard) any that start to soften or rot, or have become damaged.

Over time, your stored pumpkins will get lighter as they lose moisture content. That’s not a bad thing though – they become sweeter and more richly-flavoured the longer they’re stored.

Best Pumpkin Varieties For Storage

Generally, pumpkins with thick hard skins will store the longest. Some of the best varieties of pumpkins for long storage life include: Jarrahdale, Turkish turban, sweet grey, Queensland blue, and Crown Prince. Peter Cundall says “Thelma Sander’s sweet potato” is the best storage pumpkin he’s grown.

Other Ways To Preserve Pumpkins

There are a lot of other ways to preserve your pumpkin harvest:
  • cut them up and dehydrate them
  • cook, mash and freeze (good for curries, soups, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, etc)
  • make pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, or pumpkin bread and freeze
  • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pumpkin achar (pickled pumpkin)
And of course, home-grown pumpkins make an excellent barter item. Trade them with a neighbour for something they’ve got too much of – citrus is in season around pumpkin-picking time.

What Can You Do With The Pumpkin Vines After Harvest?

This is another great tip from Peter Cundall: drag the masses of pumpkin vine to the nearest fruit trees and arrange it in rough, bulky circles beneath their drip-lines. It’ll rot down quickly, feeding the trees, suppressing weeds and feeding the earthworms.

Do you have any pumpkin storage tips or favourite recipes? Please leave a comment!

6 Comments »

  • Linda Woodrow said:

    I can’t store pumpkins. The very determined turkeys and/or possums or bush rats get them even on the verandah. I’ve tried suspending a bed base from the ceiling of the shed, and they store well, but the creatures find them. Instead we just work on eating them in every way possible – Roast Pumpkin and Macadamia Dip, Pumpkin Bread, Honey Soy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin, Feta and Caramelized Onion Pizza, Pumpkin, Feta and Pine Nut Muffins, Creamy Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin and Chick Pea Curry – for their season, then spend the rest of the year missing them and working on “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Linda: Yum! Thanks for the delicious-sounding recipes! We’ve got some macadamia nuts still, so that dip sounds great. Megan is right this moment pulling a couple loaves of pumpkin bread from the oven, too. Curry is a good idea too – I have some chickpeas that I was wondering what to do with.

  • GreenerMe said:

    Wow 6 to 12 months!!!! That surprises me. Thanks for looking more into this for me. 🙂

  • Darren (author) said:

    @GreenerMe: Yeah, I’ve never personally stored them for that long! We eat a fair bit of pumpkin, and I’ve never stored enough to last for even 6 months. Given how much stuff we can grow year-round here, though, I don’t feel the need to store massive quantities of things. We can just turn to sweet potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes when the pumpkins run out, for example.

  • Bill Brikatis said:

    Thanks for the guidance on storing pumpkins and squash. Last year I had trouble with squash vine borer, so I wasn’t able to grow pumpkins or squash with any real success. I don’t know if you have squash borer in Australia, but it’s a real problem here in the States for organic kitchen gardeners. I’m going to plant late this year (hopefully after the moths are gone) and try to protect the vines with paper towel holder rolls. We’ll see if it works.

    I’ve added your blog to my RSS reader and will be visiting frequently.

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Bill: I think we have squash vine borer (can’t say I’ve ever seen it personally, though) but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the problem here that it is over there. Lots of US bloggers I follow are always battling it. Thanks, I added your blog to my RSS reader too (as you probably guessed from all the comments I left!).