Pumpkins are favorite garden vegetables, used for making Jack-O-Lanterns, pies, soups and other treats. Pumpkins take a long time to mature and are usually not ready to come off the vine until autumn. You must time your pumpkin planting carefully to ensure that the pumpkins are ready for harvest at the desired time period, especially if you want to use the pumpkins for Halloween.
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The number of days to harvest can vary depending on the type of pumpkins that you’re growing. In general, most pumpkins take about 100 days from seed to harvest. Small, intermediate and large standard orange types usually take 100 to 110 days to harvest, while jumbo pumpkin varieties take 120 days. Some miniature varieties like Baby Boo, Sweetie Pie, Munchkin and Jack-Be-Little can take less time to mature than the standard types. Some take as little as 75 days from seed to harvest. Miniature pumpkins are usually less than 2 to 3 lbs., small pumpkin varieties are 2 to 5 lbs., intermediates are 8 to 15 lbs., large types are 15 to 25 lbs., and jumbos are 50 to 100 lbs. or more.
Keep in mind the expected maturity time frame of your specific type of pumpkin when you’re planning your time of planting. Because pumpkins are tender, warm-season vegetables, you must plant them after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed up thoroughly. Pumpkins require a long growing season, however, so you shouldn’t wait too long to plant them – otherwise, you’ll lose your crop to fall frosts. On the other hand, if you plant pumpkins too early, they’ll soften and rot before Halloween. In many regions, planting pumpkins in late spring or early summer is ideal for harvesting and storing them for October.
As the expected maturity date approaches for your pumpkin variety, you can begin to check for certain signs that the pumpkins are ready for harvest. The first sign to look for is the pumpkin’s skin color, which should match the ripe color – in the case of standard pumpkins, this color would be a deep orange. If you notice that the pumpkins are achieving their mature skin color, thump the pumpkins with your fingers. If the pumpkins sound hollow, they’re ripe. Then, try to puncture the skin with your fingernail. If the rind is firm and doesn’t puncture easily, the pumpkins are ready to come off the vine.
To harvest the pumpkins, cut the fruits from the vine using a sharp knife or pruners. Don’t rip the pumpkins off the vine, but instead cut the stem to leave a long portion still attached to the pumpkin. Try to leave at least a 3- to 4-inch-long stem attached, because pumpkins without handles attached tend to store poorly. Store the harvested pumpkins in a dry location at temperatures around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.