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Store winter squash and pumpkins

Giant pumpkin by Scott CulleyBy Judy Scott

Pumpkins and other winter squash can grow like weeds, and as they trail out between raised beds and down rows of corn, gardeners often ask how and where to store them all.

Giant pumpkin carved by Scott Cully

Now is a good time to ask, because pumpkins and other winter squash won't survive the first frost. Tried-and-true storing techniques, however, can keep winter squash for several months.

"Most squashes and pumpkins are warm-season crops and are susceptible to injury at temperatures less than 50 degrees," said Gail Langellotto, an Oregon State University horticulturist and statewide coordinator of the Master Gardener program. "If left out in the garden too long, they may decay prematurely in storage.

"When the weather gets below about 50 degrees for more than a week, or when there is an extended period of rain, pumpkins and squash should be brought in for storage."

Squash are ready to harvest when the rind is hard enough to resist fingernail scratches. Pumpkins are ripe when they turn bright orange. Cut – do not break – stems two to four inches above the fruit. Pumpkins without stems will not store well. Hubbard-type squash (hard with a green or yellow rind), however, store best with stems completely removed.

"Handle fruit carefully to avoid bruising them," Langellotto suggested. "Don't drop or pile up your pumpkins and squash. Injured produce spoils quickly."

Cure squashes and pumpkins after harvest by keeping them warm (80 to 85 degrees), if you can, and dry for several days to heal minor abrasions from harvesting.

You should store most winter squashes and pumpkins at about 50 degrees with moderate humidity and good air circulation. An attic or insulated garage is suitable, as long as the pumpkins and squash are on shelves off the floor. A layer of straw helps keep them dry. Newspaper and paper bags hold too much moisture and should not be used.

Keep stored pumpkins and squash away from apples and pears. These and other ripening fruits release ethylene gas, which hastens the decay of stored squash. Check on your stored pumpkins and squash once a week and remove any that are turning soft.

Under proper storage conditions, acorn squashes will last one to two months and pumpkins and butternut squash from two to three months. The longest keepers, including Turban, Hubbard and Sweet Meat squash, can be stored for up to six months.

For more details, see the OSU Extension online publication EC 1632, Storing Pumpkin and Winter Squash at Home.


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