The pumpkin is characteristic of autumn and synonymous with October and Halloween, it is also variety of squash and its true name being a cucurbita, which is the latin name for gourd. A gourd being a trailing or climbing plant, containing large fleshy fruits with a hard skin, some varieties being edible, others for decoration.
As a guide, the middle of October is an ideal time for harvesting of squash and pumpkin, however, one should be vigilant, they are frost tender and to harvest before the first frost is strongly advisable.
Allow the fruit to mature and colour wholly on the plant prior to the harvest, the colour being dependant on the type and variety which is grown.
The skins should be hard and not easily dented by a fingernail and its shine will also be slightly diminished. A soft outer skin will be susceptible to damage and eventual rot.
If the fruit cannot be harvested before a frost or a large amount of rainfall, then it is recommended to raise the fruit off from the ground, thus it is not in contact with the soil to lessen the chance of rot and infection. This can be done by the use of straw, cardboard or a solid object such as wood or a brick.
To reduce the chances of disease and infections it is best to harvest on a dry day and using a sharp knife or pruners and cut the stalk as far from the fruit as possible, ideally 10cm. The stem remaining intact with the fruit is essential for good health and storage and for this reason do not be tempted to carry them by their stems, the weight of the fruit causing it to brake off.
The fruit can then be cured, which entails leaving them exposed to higher a temperature, either outside or inside on a windowsill for approximately ten days.
This curing will improve flavour, heal any wounds and harden the skin. After they have been cured they can store for two to three months in a cool, dry and dark environment, ideally about 10c. However, beware that it does not become too
cold as they may soften and begin to rot.
During storage, ensure they are not touching each other and preferably, they are on a wooden surface or cardboard, do not store on concrete as it will increase the chances of rot.
Certain varieties of squash and pumpkins are suitable for a longer winter storage, whereas, others are best to be consumed this autumn, therefore, it is best to check which type you are harvesting. The popular squash varieties being the butternut, the golden butternut (coquina) and the striped harlequin are enjoyed with great gusto soon after harvesting.
Pumpkins which are best for consumption are not usually the best for Halloween carving and Jack-O-Lanterns. A rule of thumb being a smaller denser pumpkin will contain more flesh and are best for cooking, whereas, a larger pumpkin will have more area for artwork and with less flesh it will be easier to carve.
Gourds are extremely high in nutrients and being classified as a fruit they contain seeds too, which can also be salvaged and consumed.
It maybe for the culinary delights or for decorative purposes, either way, enjoy the wonderful squash and pumpkin which nature has provided us and after Halloween, why not return the pumpkin to the natural environment and use it as a bird feeder? It will be greatly appreciated.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!