KC Gardens

How to select pumpkins and gourds

Pumpkins and gourds

Tip of the Week

Scare crows, straw bales, decorative pumpkins and gourds … the garden centers are really testing my willpower right now with their attractive seasonal displays. Welcoming autumn with a festive display of color on the front porch just makes the season brighter. Each year there seem to be new shapes, colors and textures of gourds and pumpkins. All pumpkins and gourds are members of the squash family but only the orange and round ones are called pumpkins.

Selecting good quality produce will ensure that your autumn display will be long lasting. High quality pumpkins have a firm, hard rind and are generally rich orange in color. Color is not always the best indicator of maturity, as pumpkins now come in varying shades from bright orange to light orange to almost white.

Test for the maturity of a pumpkin by gently pressing your fingernail into the rind. A mature pumpkin will resist scratching. If the surface is easily penetrated, the pumpkin was picked too early and will end up rotting. Immature pumpkins do not have a long life once picked. Also check for firm, bright green stems as this indicates freshness. A dry, shriveled stem usually means the pumpkin has been picked and stored for a long period of time thus reducing its ability to remain fresh throughout the entire fall decorating season.

Mature, quality gourds will be dull in color and the stems should be completely dry. That is unless they have been waxed or shellacked for the season. Don’t use the thumbnail test with gourds as it may puncture the skin and reduce the quality. Avoid produce that is cracked, bruised, decayed or scarred. Handle pumpkins and gourds with care to prevent any damage to them while being transported to your home display. This means do not use the stem as a handle to carry the squash. Once the stems pops off this leads to fast rot and decay, and nobody wants a slimy pumpkin on the front porch.

Pick the right pumpkin for the job. Of course perfect can mean a lot of things. Sometimes we are drawn to flat, tall, or squatty — just about any shape to get us into the fall festive mood. But if you plan on carving a jack-o-lantern, select a large, uniform shaped pumpkin as this will maximize your creativity. If pumpkin pie or a squash dish is the fruit’s destiny, then choose small, heavy fruits (sometimes marketed as pie pumpkins or winter squash because they contain more pulp than the larger varieties.

Don’t miss your opportunity to get into the fall spirit by visiting a local pumpkin patch and picking your perfect pumpkin to celebrate the autumn season.

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