GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2013

Tips for storing bounty of the pumpkin patch

NORTH SHORE GARDENER
Barbara Barger

---- — Q: Early last spring, I wrote to you about my son’s desire to plant pumpkins for Halloween. We followed your instructions, and you know what? We have pumpkins! Now what? Some nights are close to freezing. Most of the pumpkins (about 20) and gourds have turned orange and are ready for picking. The leaves of the vines have dried up. I do not have a cool, dry place to store them and do not have a root cellar. Can you suggest storage instructions to maximize the life of the pumpkins? Will the pumpkins benefit from a wipe of bleach or rubbing alcohol?

A: Harvest time has come! You and your son have quite a nice pumpkin patch! And you have gourds, too!

Allow the vines and leaves to die naturally. Harvest when the vines have died, but don’t wait until the frost kills the vine — that is too late and too cold for pumpkins.

Cut your pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or clippers, allowing a 6-inch stem to avoid rot. Do not pick them up and carry them by the stem — they are heavy, and the stem might break off and start rotting faster.

Yes, it is thought that pumpkins and gourds (and squash) will mold less if they are carefully washed with a solution of soapy water and bleach to deter molds. Use a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts soapy water. Be sure to pat them dry with a soft cloth before storing. Pumpkins are usually “cured” for 10 days in a sunless place after harvesting. Cure at temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees and high humidity. After curing, move the pumpkins to the storage area.

You will need to find an indoor storage place — a barn, cellar or enclosed porch — that is dry, cool, away from sun, frost-free and less humid than the curing area — maybe a friend can help you out. If stored properly, they should keep at least two to three months.

Place the pumpkins in the storage area in a single layer on a wooden pallet or shelves — not on a concrete floor — and check them carefully every few days for signs of rot. Do not allow them to touch each other. Discard molding pieces — mold spreads very quickly. About 60 percent humidity is necessary, however, to prevent dehydration.

Never store pumpkins near apples. Ethylene gas produced when apples ripen decreases safe storage time of almost any ripening fruit or veggie.

Many gardeners set their fruit on sheets of dry newspaper, changing them every few days to prevent rot. Use a fan in your storage area to assure good air circulation.

Good job! We will all be thinking about you on Oct. 31!

Q: How late in the season can I prune my lilac bush without doing any harm to next spring’s blooms?

A: Lilacs, like all early-blooming plants, are pruned immediately after blooming to prevent harming the next year’s buds, which are forming now. Of course any diseased wood can be pruned anytime. If your lilacs need immediate pruning, prune anytime. Sometimes this is necessary — for example, during construction — but still expect a year’s loss of flowers.

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at nsgardener@comcast.net or write c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.