Knowing the best way to pick a pumpkin for fall is the first step to long-lasting seasonal autumn decor. Picking the ideal pumpkin is not just useful, it is a way to involve the whole family in a beloved fall tradition.
This tradition signifies the dramatic change in our environment and the new rhythms and patterns that will shape our lives through the season.
Pumpkins are the center of many autumn activities from carving jack o’lanterns to fall porch decorations. But whatever way you are planning to use a pumpkin this fall, it should begin with the most excellent pumpkin you can find.
Steps to Pick a Pumpkin for Fall from a Pumpkin Farm
Selecting the perfect pumpkin for your fall festivities involves several key steps:
- Choose the Right Time
Going to the pumpkin patch at an optimal time is crucial for ensuring that you have your choice of the best pumpkins. Most pumpkin patches open their doors in late September to early October. By going at the beginning of the season, you will have the most pumpkin options regarding shape, quality, and size.
- Walk Through the Pumpkin Patch
Many pumpkin farms feature pumpkins in a wide variety of pumpkins. By taking time to walk through the pumpkin patch, you can consider all the pumpkin options available. Look at all the available pumpkins of different types and think about which size, shape, and color is best for your needs.
- Consider the Pumpkin’s Color
Pumpkins are available in a range of colors from orange, white, bluish-green, bright green, and yellow. Orange pumpkins are the most traditional and the most popular pumpkins. Choose orange pumpkins with a deep and even color. Look for a pumpkin without green or yellow patches as these indicate a pumpkin that is not quite ripe. Whatever the color of the pumpkin, you should examine a pumpkin for an even color over the entire surface. Mottled patches on the pumpkin surface may indicate a disease.
- Study the Stem
One of the most important indicators of a pumpkin’s state of health is the stem. A green stem indicates that the pumpkin has been recently harvested. Choosing a pumpkin with a green stem is good if you want the pumpkin to last for the whole fall season. But if you are planning to carve the pumpkin soon, a green stem is not a good option as they are not fully mature. Look for a pumpkin with a brown, firm, and fully attached stem which indicates that the pumpkin is ripe and fully mature. Brown-colored stems indicate a healthy pumpkin that is perfect for carving.
Any pumpkin you choose should have a firm and attached stem. Avoid pumpkins with brittle, damaged, or mushy stems regardless of their color. This type of stem indicates that a pumpkin is past its prime and will not last long in your fall decorating scheme.
- Examine for Blemishes
Check the pumpkin you are considering for any visible blemishes on the skin. Blemishes are deep wounds of any kind and can include cuts, soft spots, or bruises. Shallow scratches are not a major concern, though the scratches should not be deep enough to create an opening in the skin.
Blemishes are not just an aesthetic concern, they might be indications that the pumpkin is not in good internal condition. Perforations like cuts and gashes serve as an entry point for bacteria, molds, and fungi. These will cause deterioration like rot in the pumpkin which will reduce the longevity and the appearance of the pumpkin.
- Lift and Feel
Lift and examine the entire surface of the pumpkin. Feel the quality of the skin and make sure that it is firm to the touch. The skin should feel slightly leathery.
Press the skin with your finger. The surface of the pumpkin should not indent without springing back. Check the bottom of the pumpkin for any evidence of soft spots.
Tap the pumpkin with your knuckles and examine the resulting sound. If your pumpkin produces an echoing sound, it is a good one. The louder and more hollow the pumpkin sounds, the better it is.
- Check for Balance and Symmetry
You will likely want to check how the pumpkin rests on a flat surface depending on how you are going to use it in your decor. Pumpkins with flat bottoms and symmetrical shapes are more stable for jack-o’-lanterns that you are going to light it with candles. Symmetrical pumpkins are also better for decorations like stacked topiaries.
- Personal Preferences
People choose pumpkins for a variety of reasons. Whether you are choosing a pumpkin for carving, culinary, or decorating purposes, this will impact the type and style of the pumpkin you choose. Mini-sized pumpkins work well for decorating and display but are not good for carving. Similarly, odd-shaped and textured pumpkins can add interest in fall decorating schemes but be difficult if you want to fit them with other pumpkins.
Choosing a Pumpkin from a Store
Some people do not have the access, time, or desire to visit a pumpkin patch. This does not mean that you should not be able to choose an excellent pumpkin for your needs. But the process will be slightly different from choosing a pumpkin from a farm.
- Consider the Store
Even if you aren’t going to a pumpkin patch, it is worthwhile thinking about the store where you are going to buy the pumpkin. Talk to the grocers or garden products experts at different stores to see where the pumpkins are coming from and how far they have been shipped. Pumpkins that are farmed locally will be fresher than those shipped over long distances. Don’t forget to check out local farmer’s markets which may have a fresher and more interesting pumpkin selection than big box stores.
- Examine the Appearance
Just like you would at a pumpkin patch, examine the appearance of the pumpkin. It should have an evenly distributed color and no deep blemishes like soft spots or gashes in the skin. Inspect the bottom of the pumpkin to make sure that it is firm rather than soft.
Study the stem stub at the top of the pumpkin. It will most likely be a dark greenish-brown to dark brown stem. This indicates that it was harvested a few days previously. Choose a pumpkin with a firm and well-attached stem. Avoid any pumpkin with a soft and mushy or brittle stem.
- Test the Weight and Feel
Pick up a pumpkin that you are considering to determine the weight and the feel of the skin. Choose a pumpkin that feels firm and heavy for its size. Thump on the side of the pumpkin and listen for the sound. A healthy pumpkin will sound hollow inside.
Test the maturity of the pumpkin by pressing a fingernail into the skin. Mature pumpkins have hard and thick skin that will resist penetration. Pumpkins that were picked too early will be easy to penetrate. Avoid these as they will rot more quickly than pumpkins that were fully mature when they were picked.
How to Preserve a Pumpkin All Season
Preserving your pumpkin for the entire fall season requires slowing down the natural decay process.
- Choose a Blemish-Free Pumpkin
Beginning with a damage-free pumpkin is the first step to ensuring that your pumpkin lasts as long as possible. Choose a pumpkin without any deep surface damage, one with firm skin, and one with good color over the surface. Remember to check that the stem is green or brown, fully attached, and not mushy or brittle.
- Smart Transport
When you carry your pumpkin, carry it from the bottom rather than by grasping the stem. Carrying your pumpkin by the stem increases the likelihood that the stem will break off. Once the stem has broken off, the pumpkin will begin to decay.
- Avoid External Punctures or Carving Until Necessary
Whole pumpkins last longer than pumpkins that are carved. Carving and other punctures open them up to bacteria. This bacteria causes mold which deteriorates the body of the pumpkin. Therefore, it is best to avoid carving or puncturing your pumpkins until the last moment. Carved pumpkins last from a few days to a week depending on external conditions. Whole pumpkins, in the right conditions, can last several months.
- Wash the Pumpkin
The surface of the pumpkin carries dirt and bacteria that will hasten the decay process. Washing and disinfecting a whole pumpkin is vital for preserving it for as long as possible. Wash it with a solution of mild dish soap and water to clean the surface. Disinfect the surface by washing it in a solution of bleach and water. Measure out one or two teaspoons of bleach to a gallon of water. Soak the pumpkin in this solution for at least an hour. Remove the pumpkin, and dry it thoroughly.
- Apply a Protective Layer
Some people go the extra mile to preserve their pumpkins by applying a protective layer to the outer surface of the pumpkin. You can choose a variety of products that have the same result including petroleum jelly, vegetable oil, WD-40, acrylic finish spray, floor wax, or acrylic liquid floor cleaner. Choose one of these products to rub onto the surface of your pumpkin to help it preserve its internal moisture.
- Avoid Extreme Conditions
Excessive external heat and moisture will deteriorate your pumpkin more quickly than dry and cool conditions. Place your pumpkin away from direct sunlight and bring it inside on hotter-than-normal days. Likewise, keep your pumpkin away from sprinklers or rain. Elevate your pumpkin off the ground surface to help it to stay dry. Bring in your pumpkins if there is a predicted freeze as the freeze/thaw cycle will cause your pumpkins to spoil.