Harvesting pumpkins

It’s about time to harvest pumpkins again. Our pumpkin vine this year was a volunteer that sprang up in the chook run from the remnants of an old compost heap. It didn’t get any TLC because we half expected the chooks to trample it before it became established. However, it defied the odds and performed magnificently – which only goes to show how good compost is for growing vegetables.
I think it was only watered once but it received plenty of rain during its growing period, and the vine has produced at least 14 JAP pumpkins that we have found so far. JAP pumpkin is closely related to butternut pumpkin, gramma and trombone squash (Cucurbita moschata). These are thinner skinned and don’t keep as long as the Queensland Blue types (C. maxima).
Because we couldn’t spare the water last year, we bought all our pumpkins and some of them weren’t the best because of the drought. Consequently, we were curious to see what we could expect from our volunteer plant and picked one of the pumpkins early. (As you can see in the photo below, the stem is still moist.) Pumpkins picked at this stage do not keep well but we are using this pumpkin immediately, so it doesn’t matter. Now that they are nearly ripe, we will put a broken piece of foam box or thick cardboard under each fruit to keep them drier and clear of the ground, so they are less likely to rot. We will be leaving the rest of the crop until the vine dies off, and the stems become brittle, as that is when they develop their full flavour and store well. If you can’t wait that long, at least wait until the tendril closest to each pumpkin browns off.
Don’t worry about frost on your pumpkins, it will only kill the vines, and it is said that frost toughens the skins so that pumpkins keep longer.
P.S. When the vines had died back a bit, we realised that the vine had produced 28 pumpkins. Not bad for a volunteer vine! There were, of course, more than enough to supply family and friends, and we were able to sell the rest through our local organic greengrocer.

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73 Responses to Harvesting pumpkins

  1. Peter says:

    thank you very much for the information.
    i thought i was so smart allowing my pumpkin vines to grow where ever they wanted to. this year my false lemon hedge has flowered 3 times so far and attracted bees at the correct times rain fall has been plentiful and i have not needed to water at all. lazy.
    crop numbers best ever over 20. worm farms rule. all vege and fruit scraps. now have plenty to share which makes me happy and i like being happy. nature is terrific. so are the worms. i also have a paw paw tree from my worm farms with fruit as large as any in the shop. hope i can beat the bats. loved the reading well done

  2. Anne Tangey says:

    Why are our pumpkins flesh pale in colour and tasteless.
    Hi Anne, If you used seed that you or a friend saved from their pumpkins, it could be poor quality seed or it has been possibly cross-pollinated with a cattle pumpkin.
    If you used seed that you bought from a nursery, it is probably because you have harvested your pumpkins too early. Did you wait until “the vine dies off, and the stems become brittle, as that is when they develop their full flavour and store well. If you can’t wait that long, at least wait until the tendril closest to each pumpkin browns off”? – Lyn

  3. Peter Delley says:

    G’day first time I have had Japs in and out of the 3 pumpkin vines only one pumpkin so far, it’s as big as a basketball, do they grow that big all the time? Regards Peter
    Hi Peter, pumpkins from well-grown vines can get close to basketball size. If your 3 plants only formed one pumpkin between them it sounds as though you had a shortage of female flowers or a shortage of bees to pollinate them.
    Female flowers often form on side shoots. For next year (it’s too late for this crop) if you pinch off the ends of the long runners it usually stimulates the growth of side shoots. If lack of pollinators is your problem, see: Squash family not forming fruit
    This method of hand-pollination suits all members of the squash or cucurbit family. – lyn

  4. john says:

    great article I’ve been reading gardening books but found no details about harvesting
    have 2 butternuts on vine grown from my saved seed, going well
    but had to hand pollinate due to shortage of bees
    lots of early water but now waiting to collect fruit of my efforts

  5. Peter says:

    Thanks Lyn I will do that next year.

  6. Graeme Findley says:

    Thanks for the article. It’s great having a local aussie site because our climate is so different to the northern hemisphere and thus their sites don’t often apply). I’m in my third year of volunteer pumpkin vines. This year has been so dry (blue mountains, nsw) and numbers are down, but quality seems much better. I did a lot of hand pollinating this year – where have the bees gone? ?? Expecting 17 orange bubbas this year. Had 27 last year but a few were only good for chook fodder.

    Hi Graeme, pumpkin for chooks produces eggs with richly-coloured yolks, providing us with important anti-oxidants. Unfortunately, the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides and the spread of the varroa mite are proving to be disastrous for bees, and numbers are rapidly declining. This is becoming a serious problem as one third of all the food we eat requires bees for pollination. – Lyn

  7. Pam says:

    Hi First time growing pumpkins and I have 4 on the vine. I had to hand pollinate as no bees at all. Not one even seen in my garden this year. My question is do the pumpkins vine just die off and regrow new year ? And when do they stop producing pumpkins – I live in Brisbane. Thanks
    Hi Pam, no, they won’t grow next year as pumpkin vines are an annual. Pumpkins reach maturity from autumn onwards so they are unlikely to form new ones now. You haven’t said which variety you are growing but pumpkins are mature when the vine dies off, although you can pick them when the curly tendril closest to the pumpkin has turned brown. – Lyn

  8. Bernadette Kennedy says:

    Hi there. I loved to hear of all the pumpkin activities. My 2 vines grew in my tomato patch. At first I was very proud of them but once I was unable to get near to reach any tomatoes I was not so pleased. My garden ended up a jungle of vines and a possible home for a snake! I have lots of pumpkins, the largest so far 11.9k.
    Well done, Bernadette. You must have very healthy soil to get that result. Pleased to hear the snakes didn’t cause any problems. – Lyn 🙂

  9. Candy says:

    I’m growing Seminole Pumpkins in N FL for the first time and have four pumpkins on the huge vine so far. Please advise as to when I can harvest/what to look for and also if I should limit the number of fruits per vine. I read somewhere to not have more than three on a vine. Thank you,

    I am not familiar with this variety of pumpkin as they are not usually grown in Australia. This website tells you when they should be harvested. seminole-pumpkin

  10. Debi says:

    Thank you for responding. I live in Saskatchewan Canada. I have never grown giant pumpkins before so any advice you can offer will be valuable. I mistakenly cut two off as they were getting to big to handle, but on the yellow side. I noticed today that the largest one broke off at the stem on its own. It happened a few days ago as the stem had hardened and browned. The larger one is more orange in colour. I have two more growing yet, but aren’t huge to deal with yet.

    Debi, you may find this website helpful: When to pick giant pumpkins – Lyn

  11. Robyn Williams says:

    Hi we bought a house recently that the previous owner had obsiously thrown food scraps on a garden bed and we have tomatoes and pumpkins growing. I have a couple of pumpkins that are a golden colour and they have a pattern similar to a kent pumpkin but I have had them on there for a couple of months now (all the vine growth around them has died off) but the pumpkins haven’t changed colour just got a deeper golden. When can I pick them and is there a pumpkin that looks like a kent pumpkin and stays golden in colour? Or does it take a long time to change colour? Thank you
    I am not familiar with pumpkins that fit your description, except for the Styrian Hull-less pumpkin Cucurbita pepo styrica whose hull-less seeds are Pepitas, or the seeds could have come from a plant that was cross-pollinated with a gramma or butternut.
    Whatever its origin, it should be mature if the vine has died off. – Lyn

  12. jennifer White says:

    Hi, I amm looking for some help. I statarted the year with several very healthy pumpkin plants that just popped up in a new area of my new garden in Bendigo Victoria, this section of garend had plenty of cow poo and potash add, all was going well plenty of flowers and bees. My problem is the plants started to wilt and brown, my first thought was lack of water and sunburn, but now I am not sure, the browning has got worse as has the wilting and the plants are dying…I would appreciate any suggestions. cheers Jennifer.

    Jennifer, the wilting sounds like lack of water. I think you had some very hot days and not much rain in your area during December and January. Browning of leaves also occurs under these conditions. Pumpkin vines produce an enormous amount of foliage for one set of roots to service, and they need to form extra roots to keep them healthy. This post, Assisting root growth, will help you to encourage more roots on your vine.
    The other possible cause of the browning leaves is that you may have overdone the potash. This accumulates in soil as potassium salts, which damages existing roots and shows up as brown edges to leaves.

  13. Diane Moore says:

    I have a pumpkin that grew from my compost that was put in my garden bed. It has take over with many very large pumpkins but the pumpkins seem to be taking forever to ripen. Can I pick the pumpkins and ripen them off the vine? The garden bed it grew in has ground cover and flowers that are battling the pumpkin for space and I worry they will die unless I remove the pumpkin plant.

    You haven’t said which type of pumpkin it is, Diane. If it is a Kent/Jap pumpkin you can pick and use them when the tendril closest to the pumpkin turns brown, because these don’t keep for long. Most pumpkins are not harvested until the vine dies off because they do not ripen after picking. It really depends on what you want to keep most – the ground cover and flowers, or the pumpkins. – Lyn

  14. Diane Moore says:

    Hi Lyn, thank you for your reply. It is a butternut pumpkin. Some sites say to cut the leaves back to allow the sun to ripen the pumpkin but another site states to retain the leaves for shade so am a little confused.
    Hi Diane, you haven’t said where you live, but I don’t think sun on the pumpkins helps ripening and, in some parts of Australia, can cause sun damage to the crop. The foliage in the photo in the above article is hiding 28 pumpkins, and they all ripened beautifully. – Lyn

  15. Penny says:

    Hi, My pumpkins are growing so well that it appears I have attracted the entire rat population in my area to gorge on my delicious organic produce including pumpkins, eggplant and cucumbers before they are ready for picking. How do I keep the rats away so that I can pick them when they are ripe? I have tried traps and poison (away from the produce as I want it to be organic) but no luck so far.

    Hi Penny,if you have tried traps and poisons with no luck, I have no idea why you are having so much trouble with rats attacking your lovely produce. Does anyone else have any bright ideas? – Lyn

  16. Tony says:

    Hi lyn, My pumpkins seem to stop growing when they get to around 40-50 cms round. Vines are still nice and green, and water the plant every second day. I haven’t furtilised since December and if I need too what is best to use? Also the pumpkins are growing on grass , should I put something under the pumpkin to stop it from whitening on the bottom, if yes what should I use? Thanks in advance.

    Tony, as they produce a lot of foliage they need a good supply of nutrients to keep them growing strongly. A complete organic fertiliser such as pelleted poultry manure and some mature compost applied around the main root area and any auxiliary roots is suitable.
    As it says in the post above “a broken piece of foam box or thick cardboard” under each pumpkin will keep them clear of the ground but they tend to be a lighter colour where they get less light. – Lyn

  17. kim says:

    Mid north coast NSW. When I was little people used to leave a pumpkins out on the tank stand after picking it to ripen. Was that just the blue pumpkins or an old wives tale?
    I am growing Jap/kent pumpkins and have a very healthy vine ( which has taken over my whole garden which I am ok with as only had capsicum in @ moment) with many fruit on it and I have picked three good size ones before the stem browned. So from what I have read on this site, I now know I can use them straight away?
    Although, I will now not pick the rest till the vine dies. Thanks. Also we have had lots of rain so will now put cardboard under each of the fruit. Also thanks.

    No, Kim, it wasn’t an old wives tale. They were Cucurbita maxima varieties of pumpkin that have tough skins and tend to store well. These include Queensland Blue, Jarrahdale, and Australian Ironbark. You are showing excellent soil management if your vine is healthy enough to produce many fruits.
    The Japanese/Kent variety (Cucurbita moschata) does not keep as well because of its thinner skin and, I would be checking the vine regularly, picking and using the pumpkins where the curly tendril (not the stem) closest to each fruit has browned. Otherwise, if you leave them all until the vine dies, they will all be ripe at once and you will probably have to share them with family and friends because of their shorter storage period. The only problem with picking pumpkins before they are fully mature is that they have not developed their full colour (beta carotene content) and the flavour tends to be insipid and less sweet.
    By the way, giving pumpkin scraps to your chooks produces egg yolks with a rich, golden colour. – Lyn

  18. Stu Layton says:

    I live up Cape York and was told the old mailman used to plant a few pumpkin seeds where their had been a fire in the bush that he’d see as he was doing the mail run. My son was doing some work at Wolverton station, north of Archer River and they put pumpkins where there had been a fire and got heaps. I planted some seeds where we’d burnt and I’ve produced 28 Qld blue from the one vine .Planted at the start of the wet ,so plenty of rain . Not quite sure when to pick , have been when the pumpkins are a bit yellow. I’d been told wait till stalk died, but they were fine. Loverly and sweet. Stu

    Congratulations on your impressive pumpkin crop, Stu. In bushland, as organic matter breaks down, the soil becomes more acidic and the potash released by fire improves the pH and provides calcium and potassium, all of which are needed to produce good mature fruit. – Lyn

  19. Tina Hill says:

    I have ten butternut and three Jap on my wild plants grown from compost heap of last tenant in this house so that will stretch my budget! Just waiting for a frost. Fruit big and full sounding. So pleased. Will throw some seeds in next year too and some zucchinis. Good idea about the cardboard.
    Wonderful, Tina. You have also discovered how pumpkin vines thrive on compost. A lesson for gardeners everywhere. You don’t need to wait for a frost to harvest, just until the vine dies off.– Lyn

  20. Nicola says:

    I’m in Mornington Victoria and we’ve just had our first frosty night…below zero, and woken up to damaged pumpkin vine!!!! What do I do? There are about 7 -10 pumpkins on the vine….do I cut them off and bring indoors &; try to use??? Or leave on vine???
    Hi Nicola, I don’t know what type of pumpkins you are growing but pumpkins that are grown for storage are best harvested after the vine dies off. If you pick them too early, they are often pale-fleshed and haven’t developed a good flavour. You could pick one if you wish, and try it. – Lyn

  21. Alison says:

    If you need bees, I suggest you consider planting sedum! It’s a beautiful plant and the bees just seem to love it!

  22. Tracey says:

    I’m in Seymour, about 50 mins north of Melbourne in Victoria. This is my second year of growing Kent pumpkins, first year was an accident compost scraps sprouted. This year’s plant sprouted on its own, wasn’t planted but I’ve got 2 pumpkin’s that have gotten large enough to pick. Should I place cardboard under the fruit and how long should I wait to harvest. Also is it normal to still be getting flowers on the vine this late in the season, new flowers nearly every day. Thanks
    Hi Tracy, yes, putting pieces of foam box under your pumpkins will help keep the bases dry. Thick cardboard, if you are not getting a lot of rain, can also be used. The article tells you when to pick JAP/Kent pumpkins – when the vine dies off for best flavour, and not before the tendril closest to the pumpkin has browned off, if you can’t wait that long. A lot of plants are flowering out of season now. It is a sign of climate change, which confuses plants whose flowering is stimulated by temperature. We have had Hibiscus and Frangipani burst into flower in winter on one occasion. – Lyn

  23. Stef says:

    When is the best time to plant butternut pumpkins? I planted mine and I have 2 that are almost ready to pick and another 2 growing but I think the vines will die soon, am I right? Stef
    It depends on which climate zone you live in, Stef, and I have no idea where you are. – Lyn

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