We are slowly but surely approaching pumpkin season as the summer winds down and we can feel the temperatures getting cooler. For those of you who are growing yourself, you’re likely already seeing those beautiful bright orange flowers blooming and the fruits forming along the vines.
This past week, I visited a local farm with several pumpkin vines growing like crazy with 5-pound pumpkins already formed. Fall is definitely upon us! Pumpkin vines are actually very easy to grow and will give you many fruits to enjoy.
Whether you’re growing pumpkins yourself or are buying them from a local market, it’s good to know how long pumpkins last and how to store them so you can get the best out of these seasonal favorites.
If done properly, pumpkins can be stored for a few months up to one year! So, read on to see how you can maximize your pumpkin’s shelf life to enjoy this yummy squash all year long. I’ll also cover in this article how long pumpkins last after carving and how to keep your pumpkin fresh for a pretty fall decor display.
How Long Can Pumpkins Store For
The part of the pumpkin that rots the easiest is the soft and stringy “meat” of the fruit. This is why the rind along the outside of the pumpkin is so tough, because it has to protect the soft interior.
So, the condition of the rind when you pick a pumpkin will tell you a lot about how long it can last in storage. If you have a pumpkin with a bruised or damaged rind, it’s best to use this right away since it won’t be able to store for very long.
If you picked a healthy and intact pumpkin, it will last for two to three months in a chilled (but not cold) and dry room. You can, for example, store your pumpkins in your garage, basement, or shed.
However, it will only last about one month to six weeks if the pumpkin is left in your kitchen or indoor pantry. Do not store the whole pumpkin in your fridge.
FYI, this is the same for all winter squashes since they generally form the same way- so all of this information applies to Butternut and Spaghetti squashes as well! However, summer squashes are generally softer and won’t last as long.
It All Starts with a Good Harvest
As you might guess, healthy pumpkins will last the longest in storage, so when and the way that they’re harvested is very important for maximizing their storage.
Pumpkins are ready for harvest in September through October, although this might be longer depending on where you live. They can be harvested up to the first frost or when overnight temperatures drop below 40 F.
Of course this is relevant if you’re harvesting from your own garden, but even if you’re picking pumpkins from a local pumpkin patch or even buying from a market there’s certain things you should look out for.
It’s important to harvest on a nice, warm day- this way you and your pumpkin will enjoy the harvest! If you harvest on a rainy day, there’s a higher chance of the pumpkin soaking in that moisture and bringing it inside, which will disrupt the storage.
Pumpkins that are already damaged can still be harvested and should be used quickly- keep reading to see how to store the pumpkin insides so you don’t have to eat them right away! The healthiest and completely intact pumpkins are the best ones to save for storage.
Make sure to wear gardening gloves while you harvest, because the vines are prickly and you don’t want to drop or damage a pumpkin because you got pricked!
This applies to even after you’ve picked the pumpkins- be careful not to bruise the pumpkins in transit. Whether you’re just carrying one indoors or you’re transporting it around in your car, take care not to let the pumpkin get bruised.
Once you’ve collected your pumpkins, you can brush off the dirt, but don’t wash them yet. Similar to storing potatoes, if you wash them before storing, there could be residual moisture that sticks and eventually leads to mold.
Notice how each of these pumpkins has a stem that’s several inches long and is very solid.
Indicators on the Stem
The condition of the stem of the pumpkin is actually a really great signal for how long your pumpkin will last in storage. You want a pumpkin with a stem that’s about 3 inches long and feels sturdy.
If the stem of the pumpkin is limp and rubbery, this means the pumpkin is older and is softer, so it won’t store as long. These late stage pumpkins can store for one month, maximum.
When you’re harvesting, you want to keep the pumpkin’s stem intact. The stem is the connection between the fruit and the vine, so this is where the pumpkin receives all its nutrients from. If you aggressively break the stem, this will likely disrupt the pumpkin and it won’t store as well.
When taking the pumpkin, it’s best to use sharp garden shears so that you can cut the stem quickly and keep it intact. You definitely don’t want to just rip the pumpkin off the vine!
Lastly, don’t carry your pumpkins around by the stem- this can also damage the stem. Plus, if the stem breaks while you’re carrying a pumpkin like this, then you might drop the pumpkin and have even more damage.
Leaving the pumpkins to “cure” for about two weeks after harvest isn’t necessary, but is a great way to increase the storage time for your pumpkins. Curing also allows the rind to heal if there’s any minor bruises on the pumpkin.
If you don’t know, curing a vegetable means leaving it out so its rind can harden for a bit before putting it in storage. This is especially helpful for any immature pumpkins you may have harvested.
The best way to cure pumpkins is leave them out in a room that’s around 80 F for 10-20 days. If this isn’t possible for you, they can also cure at room temperature as long as your home is above 60-65 F.
When curing pumpkins, it’s important to leave them in a room with good air circulation- stagnant air can lead to decay. A room that’s dry but is well-circulated is perfect.
You’ll know that the pumpkins have cured enough when the rind is so hard that you can’t puncture it with your fingernail.
Also, you should note that mini pumpkins always need to be cured before eating. Since they’re a smaller variety, their rind develops differently and isn’t hard enough to let the insides fully mature. Although, this step is only necessary if you’re harvesting little pumpkins yourself- if you’re buying one then it’s most likely already been cured.
Longer Lasting Varieties of Pumpkins
It’s also handy to know that there’s several varieties of pumpkins, some of which naturally store better than others. There are pumpkins that have been bred over many centuries to have thicker rinds that will allow them to store longer or in colder climates.
Similarly, there are also pumpkins bred specifically to be used for pumpkin carving, therefore they have thinner rinds and won’t store as well. So, if you see pumpkins that are advertised as “carving pumpkins,” know that they won’t last for long in your pantry.
In general, smaller pumpkins and other gourds can last longer in storage, typically about 6-8 months, but some up to one year. Look out for heirloom pumpkins or pie pumpkins- these are varieties of smaller pumpkins that will last the longest.
Pumpkins like the Connecticut Field Pumpkin, Howden Commercial Pumpkin, or New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin are known to have shorter shelf lives, only lasting 2-3 months.
However, varieties like the Dickinson Culinary Pumpkin, Winter Sweet Kabocha Squash, or Queensland Blue Pumpkin can be stored for 5-6 months. While Kogigu Japanese Pumpkin and Baby Boo Mini Pumpkin last for 8-9 months.
There’s even the Jarrahdale Pumpkin or Traimble Pumpkin that are known to last for 12 months! Of course, options will be limited to what you have access to- and many varieties of pumpkin are foreign specialities- but this is definitely something to keep in mind!
How Long Will Carved Pumpkins Last For
However, all of this changes once you carve up a pumpkin. As I’ve said, the rind is the protective layer of the pumpkin, so once you’ve cut into a pumpkin and exposed the insides, it won’t last for very long after.
Generally, carved pumpkins can stay on display for around 10 days before they start rotting. Although, this depends on the climate where you live- pumpkins can last longer in colder regions and will rot faster where it’s warmer.
It’s recommended that you carve the pumpkin just before when you want to display it, exactly because it won’t last for very long afterwards. Especially if you place candles inside the pumpkin, the heat from the flame will speed up the decomposition process.
There are some ways to prolong the rotting process and preserve the look of your pumpkin a bit longer. Some people use sealer, like you use to treat wood, on the cuts of the pumpkin and you can also use olive oil to protect the insides.
Although, you can also work with nature and use the rotting process to your advantage to create a spooky Jack-o-lantern that’s rotting and decaying! For a look like this, carve the pumpkin about two weeks prior to when you want to display it.
Of course, where and how you store your pumpkins will have a huge effect on how long they last- if done improperly, you might only get a few weeks out of them. But, if you follow these guidelines, your healthy pumpkins can be stored for up to 3 months (for most varieties).
With pumpkins you can store the entire pumpkin in a cool and dry place, you can refrigerate cut up pieces, or freeze various parts. In this part of this article, I’ll explain how to do each of these and their benefits!
Storing Whole Pumpkins
Many people prefer to keep the pumpkin whole and store it as is- this is the easiest and more direct method. This also allows you to grab the pumpkin when you’re ready and immediately use it.
For storing whole pumpkins, it’s best to keep them in a cool room that’s at 50-55 F, with good air circulation. Stale air can cause rotting, so it’s best to keep them somewhere with a little draft.
Basements or cellars are often good places to store, as long as there’s enough air circulation. You can also store pumpkins in your garage or outdoor shed, just until overnight temperatures drop below 40 F. You should never put a whole pumpkin in your fridge.
If pumpkins are exposed to frost one time, this can cause discoloration but, it’s not too bad and they can still store for a while. However, if they’re left out in freezing temperatures, this will really shorten their storage time because the rind softens after being frozen.
Wherever you decide to keep your pumpkins, don’t place them directly on concrete. It’s better to place them on a dry piece of wood or cardboard, or even on top of a thick layer of straw.
It’s also important not to store pumpkins near other fruits that you’ve recently harvested, like apples or pears. The ripening of these fruits will cause the pumpkins to ripen and soften.
This is all for storing whole pumpkins and you should only keep full, intact pumpkins with others. If you cut one up but don’t use all of it, do not put it back with the others- any cut up parts need to be stored in your fridge.
When storing cut up pumpkin in your fridge, keep the pieces in an airtight container. This can be stored in your fridge for up to one week, at which point the pieces will become limp.
You can cut up pumpkin pieces and put these directly in the fridge or you can cook the pieces and then refrigerate them. You can also blend up pumpkin pieces to make a puree and refrigerate this puree, also for one week.
After 7-10 days, there’s a high chance that mold will start forming on your pumpkin or pumpkin products. When this happens you should compost the affected pieces and use the rest immediately.
Although you shouldn’t keep whole pumpkins in your freezer, there are actually many ways you can freeze pumpkin to use later. Once you cut up a pumpkin, there’s tons of things you can do with the soft insides that can be frozen.
Most simply, you can cut up the inside of the pumpkin and store the pieces in a container in the freezer. You can blend these pieces and freeze the puree, which can be used in soups and sauces later on.
You can also do some meal prep, and create pumpkin soup or sauces with pumpkin and then freeze these. You can even freeze an entire pumpkin pie and take it out when the occasion calls!
Other Options for Storing
Lastly, here’s two more ideas for storing pumpkins: canning and saving the seeds. For all the ideas I mentioned above- pumpkin puree, sauces, or soups- you can store these by canning them yourself!
However, it’s important that you note that canning needs to be done properly to avoid any contamination and if you don’t have any experience, do some research first to get a good handle on the process.
This isn’t to discourage you- canning is a super useful skill to have, especially when you’re growing your own food, and is definitely something you should take the time to learn! Just don’t jump in without any prior knowledge.
As important as it is to properly store the meat of the pumpkin, since that’s mostly what we use, don’t forget about the seeds! The seeds can be dried out and roasted and like this, can be stored in an airtight container for several months. You can use the seeds in all kinds of baked goods or season them and just eat as is!
How to Know when the Pumpkin is Bad
After a few months, if you haven’t used all of them, your pumpkins will start to rot and can no longer be stored. Thankfully, the pumpkin will externally show signs when the interior starts to rot, so you won’t be cutting open a pumpkin to a nasty surprise.
The clearest signs are black spots on the rind that look like big bruises or if the rind becomes soft and wrinkles.
For larger pumpkins, you might also notice that the pumpkin is losing its form and is beginning to cave in. you definitely want to catch the pumpkin before this point, because it’s a terrible mess once it has caved in!
Example of pumpkins that have been left for too long and are starting to cave in. Rotting_Halloween_pupkins,_Mundesley / Kolforn / CC 4.0
Once the rind starts to soften, it will soften from the bottom up, so you might not notice it right away. The rind will soften and the bottom of the pumpkin will sink down a little bit as the weight of the insides creates pressure on the soft bottom.
This can lead to the pumpkin leaking fluid, essentially the juices from the inside seeping through the broken rind. You really don’t want to let the pumpkin get to this point, but if this does happen, you need to remove it quickly.
If the fluid spreads, it can get the other pumpkins wet and expose them to moisture, which will likely lead to mold developing. This could also attract bugs that could come because of the liquid, but stay to eat all the other pumpkins!
You’re Ready for Harvest!
In this article, I’ve explained to you all my knowledge about how to properly harvest pumpkins and the ways that you can store them to keep them at their best for months.
If you have any experience growing pumpkins, you’ll know that they grow super quickly and often produce way more pumpkins than you know what to do with. That’s why pumpkins are such a classic fall ingredient, because there’s just so many you have to find ways to use them!
Between all the various ways you can use pumpkins when they’re fresh plus ways you can store them, pumpkins are a crop that we can enjoy for months on end. Plus, their gorgeous flowers are edible too.
Remember that in order to maximize how long it lasts in storage, you need to start with a healthy pumpkin with a good stem. This first step makes sure that you get off to a good start, from there just follow the guidelines explained in this article and enjoy your pumpkins!