Care needed to make pumpkins, jack-o’-lanterns last | News

Understanding how to keep a jack-o’-lantern from rotting is crucial for keeping the fall display colorful and fresh for as long as possible. Unfortunately, pumpkins can go bad fast, and there is nothing sadder than a soft, squishy pumpkin just days after harvest or carving.

Here is a quick rundown of strategies that will extend the life of a jack-o-lantern.

Uncarved pumpkins last longer if the rind is allowed to fully cure and then stored in a cool, dark place. An uncarved pumpkin with a healthy, intact rind can last for several weeks after harvest. With proper care, you should be able to roast a pumpkin for Christmas pies if desired.

Once the protective rind has been cut, the story is different. On average, most carved pumpkins last between three and five days. In colder, drier climates, one may get lucky and have a pumpkin that lasts for a week or more, but that is an exception and not the rule. With that timeframe in mind, it’s helpful to use a few of the tricks below to possibly extend the life of an uncarved and carved pumpkin.

Pumpkins rot due to exposure to oxygen and moisture, leading to the multiplication of fungi and bacteria that decompose the tissues. Once the rind is punctured, these agents of decay move in, regardless of how much time and effort is spent carving. Pumpkins will rot especially fast in warm, humid climates, where fungi and bacteria easily grow.

If one is looking to keep your whole pumpkin in storage for later use, a few easy steps make a big difference. Cure your pumpkin before storage, submerge the pumpkin in bleach water or in diluted vinegar, and be sure to store in a cool, dark place.

Curing is the process of allowing certain vegetables to develop a hardened, dry layer that protects them from rotting in storage. It helps the pumpkins dry down as much as possible, removing the moisture that leads to decay. It is the traditional method for getting pumpkins and other fall-harvested squash ready for storage. Curing is also an easy process.

A good area for curing has plenty of airflow and is dry and warm, preferably temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Pumpkins need good exposure to the air to cure properly; place them down on a pallet, a layer of cardboard, an old window screen or a large open basket.

Make sure to give each pumpkin plenty of room, laying them out in a single layer, not touching. Allow them to cure for 10-14 days.

A bleach bath will help eradicate any bacteria or fungus on the outside of the pumpkin. Find a bucket or basin that is big enough to completely submerge your pumpkin. Bleach dilutions for food sanitation should not exceed 100 parts per million (ppm), and 65 ppm is more than enough for most garden produce. One teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water in the container will suffice. Always measure bleach. Dunk the pumpkin in the bleach solution and allow it to sit for five minutes before removing the pumpkin, rinse it with clean water and allow it to air dry.

A vinegar bath is also effective for killing off any bacteria or fungus. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to 5 gallons of water, submerge your pumpkin, and let it sit in the solution for up to 15 minutes. Then let it air dry.

Carved pumpkins need different attention than whole pumpkins. Generally, uncarved pumpkins last much longer than carved ones, so the recommendation for carving them up is three days prior to Halloween at the most.

But once you have your jack-o’-lantern, how do you keep it grinning for as long as possible?

Bleach solutions work on carved pumpkins too! But the solution needs to be stronger. Once the pumpkins are carved, they can be submerged in a bleach solution (mix approximately five fluid ounces of bleach in a bucket of water) and leave them in the bucket for 24 hours.

Oil naturally repels water, and one way to keep carved pumpkins fresh is to keep the moisture inside the tissues by coating the cut surfaces with some form of oily substance.

Coat the edges to prevent them from losing moisture; petroleum jelly is the best option.

One can find silica gel pouches in various packages and containers, where they are placed to absorb moisture and keep contents from clumping. They can do the same for your carved pumpkin. Save a few silica packets and place them around the bottom of the pumpkin. Do not use light silica gel with a real candle due to fire hazard.

Hairspray is also a great way to seal in moisture and keep the inside of your pumpkin from withering quickly. Use several coats to cover every part of the scraped-out inside, and the carved-out edges.

If using a real candle in your jack-o’-lantern, wait until the hairspray is completely dried. Some formulas have flammable ingredients. Hot candles can accelerate decay in Halloween pumpkins. Instead of using real candles, use a remote-controlled LED faux candle.

Bring your jack-o’-lantern in during the day and keep it in the fridge. Bacteria and fungi work fastest in warm temps, so protecting your pumpkin from daytime heat will help. Then you can put it out with lights on at night.

Nelson is also an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County.