It feels that this year autumn has come early as rain showers threaten to make an appearance on the daily and shops (and people’s shopping baskets) are filling with autumnal mushroom and pumpkin shaped homewares. And if you have an actual pumpkin plant in your garden, you might already be thinking about picking your produce as a result of the weather. But knowing when to harvest pumpkins is key to getting a perfectly ripe fruit.
Our experts and their garden advice say to hold your horses. It might be summerween (what social media has branded this time of year) and pumkin casserole dishes are flying off the shelves but it’s not autumn just yet. And, needless to say, your pumpkin plant does not care about the latest trend.
When to harvest pumpkins
Knowing when to harvest your pumpkins is crucial to getting those beautifully orange, sweet-tasting fruits, just like being aware of how to harvest basil and other veg is. There is a reason why pumpkins are such a quintessential symbol of Halloween. It’s because their harvest falls at the same time of year as the spooky holiday.
‘As you can expect, the best time of year to pick pumpkins is typically in late September and early October, perfectly in time for Halloween,’ confirms Jack Sutcliffe, co-founder of Power Sheds.
Steve Chilton, garden expert from LeisureBench, says the picking period can stretch to early November before adding, ‘In the UK, pumpkins might grow slower than they do in warmer climates abroad, simply because of the colder weather.’
Petar Ivanov, gardening expert at Fantastic Gardeners, shares a more analytical but fail-proof approach to knowing when to harvest your pumpkins. ‘Most pumpkin varieties require a certain number of days to mature from the time the seeds were planted and this maturity period can range from 75 to 125 days.'
'It's recommended to count the days from when you planted the seeds or transplanted seedlings to estimate when your pumpkins will be ready,' Petar explains.
How do you know when a pumpkin is ready to pick?
If you get to the traditional harvesting period and you’re unsure whether your pumpkin is actually ready for picking, there are a few things you can do to check. The pumpkin’s colour is the first indicator of its ripeness. Remember, we are looking for that signature vibrant hue.
‘First of all, is the pumpkin the colour that it should be?,' asks garden expert Steve. 'It should be a bright orange, anything less and the pumpkin likely isn't ready to be picked just yet.'
The look of the stem and the vine it is on should also give you a hint as to whether it’s ready or not. Bendy is no good.
‘The stem of a ripe pumpkin will start to dry out and become brittle near the point where it attaches to the vine,’ explains Petar from Fantastic Gardeners. ‘As the pumpkins mature, the vines that are attached to them will begin to dry out and wither. This is another sign that the pumpkins are close to being ready for harvest.’
Now we’re going to get handsy with your pumpkin. The first test you can perform is pressing your fingernail against the skin to check whether the fruit has developed a hard outer layer.
‘You can test it yourself by attempting to pierce the skin with your fingernail,' suggests Jack from PowerSheds. 'You shouldn’t be able to puncture through it but create a dent in the skin.'
Lastly, carry out what the experts call the thump test.
‘Give the pumpkin a gentle tap or thump,' explains Petar. 'If it sounds hollow and deep, it's likely ripe. However, if the sound is dull and shallow, it might still need more time on the vine.'
Can you leave a pumpkin on the vine too long?
As well as picking it too early and being left with an unripe produce, you can also leave pumpkins on the vine for too long, which can lead to spoiling of the fruit.
‘Knowing when a pumpkin is ready for picking is a crucial factor to make sure that you harvest your produce at its peak ripeness,' says gardening expert Petar. 'Otherwise, an overripe pumpkin will show signs of deterioration. That's why it's always better to harvest a bit earlier rather than later.'
And given the fact that its harvesting period falls at such a late time of the year, one cannot rule out the possibility of extreme weather conditions, which are no good for a pumpkin.
‘In regions with frost, it's important to harvest your pumpkins before the first frost arrives because it can damage the pumpkins' skins and lead to premature spoilage,' adds Petar. 'Keep an eye on your local weather forecast and plan your harvest accordingly.'
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Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home and interiors. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.
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