Pumpkins produce more per pound than any other garden vegetable I know of. Knowing how to grow and preserve pumpkins, can provide a significant source of nutrition for your homestead in winter. They store well, preserve easily, and are a great food for all livestock. Learn everything you need about how to grow and preserve pumpkins.
I love growing, preserving, and using pumpkins almost as much as I do sweet potatoes! I like the simplicity of starting them from seed, transplanting them into the garden, and then leaving them there until the rest of the harvest rush is over.
Pumpkins just sit in the garden until the vines have dried up. You can even leave them there until just before it freezes. It’s so fun to walk through the pumpkin patch and look at all the different sizes and shapes.
Pumpkins are a winter squash like butternut or acorn squash. Winter squash is never used small or green like summer squash. They have to be allowed to ripen on the vine and are very nourishing.
How to Grow and Preserve Pumpkins
Depending on the kind of pumpkin you plant, it will take anywhere from 90 to 120 days for your fruit to be ready. This means you want to plant them at least that many days ahead of your first frost date. I start my seeds in late April to early May so that we can transplant them to the garden in early June.
We make our own potting soil by mixing sandy soil, compost soil, and dirt from the chicken yard in a 2:3:2 ratio. When they put off their second true leaf, we transplant them to the garden.
You can direct seed your pumpkins by planting them 1 inch deep, three seeds to a hill, and each hill 4 to 6 feet apart. Your variety will determine how quickly you’ll see germination, but between 7 to 10 days is normal.
Care of Pumpkins in the Garden
Once they start putting off their vines, it’s important to be careful with them. When they start to bloom and produce fruit don’t disturb them or break them.
Pumpkins need lots of water, especially once they are bearing fruit. If I see that any insect has been eating the leaves, I sprinkle the plants and the ground around them with diatomaceous earth.
Fun For Kids: Watermelons and pumpkins are very easy to personalize. When your pumpkins or melons first start getting big, but are still green, use your fingernail or the dull side of a blade to lightly scratch names, a phrase, or a design into the skin. As the skin thickens, the scratch heals over into a raised scar and the result is so much fun!
I used to love having the boys search the pumpkin patch for the one with their name. They’re actually learning to work in the garden and how to grow and preserve pumpkins in the process.
Harvesting and Curing Pumpkins
Like we said, just let them sit in the garden until the vines are dried up or until the first frost comes and kills the vines. Be careful not to let your pumpkins freeze.
When the vines are dead, cut the stems at least an inch from the fruit then let them sit there for 5 to 14 days depending on your weather forecast.
When it’s time to bring them in, put them in a warm place to allow the rind to harden and the fruit to heal from any nicks or cuts. Be sure you handle your pumpkins gently because they won’t heal from bruises. They will rot first where they are bruised.
If your pumpkin does freeze, as soon as it thaws it will begin to rot so you’ll have to preserve them as soon as possible. If one does freeze, I would recommend feeding it to the livestock.
Remember, your stored pumpkins, just like any other garden produce, must never freeze. They will store longer if they are kept where they don’t touch one another. They tend to rot at the points of contact.
The ones we’ll be giving to livestock do get piled up. We check them regularly to be sure any with bad spots get used first.
If one set aside for human consumption does develop a bad spot, you can usually just cut the bad spot out and use or preserve it right away.
Long-term storage of your pumpkins is best between 50 to 60°, but we simply just do the best we can. Everyone has their own way of doing it. A root cellar is an ideal place for them, but we don’t have one…yet.
The pumpkins we plan to eat are kept in an unheated room in our house. If you know how to grow and preserve pumpkins, the ones you harvest in October will be good until February or March.
Of course the first thing everyone thinks of when you mention pumpkin is the ever-popular pumpkin pie. It’s a part of traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Making your pie from homegrown pumpkins is easy.
To make a pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin
- Begin by cutting the pumpkin in half.
- Next, scrape out the seeds and place each half upside down in a shallow baking pan.
- Then add just enough water to the pan so that it reaches the rim of the pumpkin halves.
- Bake at 400° for about an hour.
- Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool until you can handle the halves without burning your hands.
- Scoop the pumpkin flesh out and puree it in a blender or use an electric mixer to mash it thoroughly. I use my Vitamix.
Another way to prepare fresh pumpkin for pie
- Slice, peel, and cube the pumpkin and place in a large pot.
- Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.
- Bring it to a boil and continue cooking until all the liquid content of the pumpkin is cooked out and the pumpkin is thickened.
- You have to continuously stir it, especially once it starts to thicken to prevent burning.
- Be careful of the bubbling to avoid getting burned.
- I have good results with either method.
Use the fresh pureed pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe.
Preserving Pumpkin by Freezing
- Simply cut open the pumpkin and remove the fibers and seeds.
- Cut it into pieces and place in a large pot.
- Barely cover the bottom of the pot with water.
- Bring pumpkin pieces to a boil and boil just until pumpkin begins to soften.
- You can also steam or bake it until it is barely soft.
- When the pumpkin first begins to soften, remove the rind and slightly mash the fruit.
- You don’t need to puree it, just mash it well.
- Put as much as you would like in your freezer bag and place it in the freezer.
Preserving Pumpkin by Dehydrating
The old-timers preferred drying pumpkins. Of course, they used air and sun to dry their pumpkins where I use a dehydrator.
- Slice the pumpkin into round slices about 1/4″ thick.
- Remove the seeds, fibers, and rinds.
- Next, cut the round slices into pieces no larger than 1″ and place them on trays in the dehydrator.
- Dry at 120° for 18 to 24 hours. They will have a leathery texture.
To rehydrate pumpkin for recipes:
- Remember, when you’re ready to rehydrate your pumpkin for use in any recipe, a little bit goes a long way since dehydrated foods shrink tremendously.
- Rehydrate by soaking in boiling water or place the desired amount of pumpkin into the water and boil on low until it’s rehydrated.
- You can also steam it to rehydrate, but I find this takes much longer.
Preserving Pumpkin by Canning
- Peel the pumpkin and cut it into 1-inch cubes.
- Cover it with water and bring it to a boil.
- Continue boiling for 2 minutes and then hot pack it into sterilized jars.
- Pour the liquid from the boiling pumpkin over the chunks in the jars. Be sure to leave a 1-inch headspace.
- It’s best to not mash or purée the pumpkin before canning.
- Process in your pressure canner according to the latest guidelines. You can check them here.
Don’t Forget to Use the Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are very nutritious for people and livestock. They are a natural dewormer for animals.
We enjoy roasting them as a winter treat. They are excellent for men’s health as well.
Winter squash is one of the easiest plants to save seeds from. Save pumpkin seeds for next year’s crop from your best pumpkin.
That’s all there is to how to grow and preserve pumpkins. I told you it was easy and fun. No matter which way you choose to preserve your pumpkin, you can easily use it in any recipe you want. We even use it to make doggie treats.