Ripening Vine Crops
by National Gardening Association Editors
You don't have to worry about these vegetables going by before harvest time. The seeds inside them won't grow large enough to trigger the plant's stop-production mechanism until there's plenty of fruit already on the vines. Wait until all the vines die or until right before the first frost to harvest your winter squash and pumpkins. If you plan to store winter squash and pumpkins through the winter, don't let them get touched by frost or they'll rot.
The signs of ripeness are simple. If your thumbnail can't penetrate the vegetable skin, it's fully mature, long lasting and a good keeper in storage. However, before you stick your nail into a squash, first check the vegetable for a deepening of its skin color. If you test one and your thumbnail breaks the skin, use it first because it won't store very long.
Most of the winter squashes or pumpkins on each plant should be ripe at about the same time. Harvest those you intend to store on a sunny day, after a few days of dry weather if possible.
Cut the vegetables off the vines leaving some stem on each. Roll them over and leave them outside for a few hours until the dirt and earthworms on the undersides dry out and drop off.
Be careful not to bruise vegetables you want to store -- they won't keep well, and they may spread fungus or rot to other vegetables. Don't carry these vegetables by the stems; the stems won't support the weight.
Wash winter squash and pumpkins with a bleach solution to kill bacteria on the skin. This helps them keep longer and better. Dilute a cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water and sponge or dip the vegetables. Don't rinse them, just drip them dry.
Photography by National Gardening Association
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