Sunday, December 26, 2021

Harvesting and post-harvest handling of pumpkin fruit

Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, and genus Cucurbita. Pumpkins are warm season crops that are sensitive to cool temperatures and frost intolerant. Most are day neutral and sex expression is monoecious. The cultivated species are now widely disseminated throughout tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world.

There are numerous pumpkin varieties. The basic types of pumpkins are
(1) American pumpkins - very long, soft and rounded.
(2) Butternut squash is called “butternut pumpkin” and neck pumpkin.
(3) Marrows- these are variable species both in vegetative growth and fruit structure

Pumpkins require soils that are fairly fertile, and well drained. Maximum yields are achieved on medium-textured soils with high water-holding capacity and good internal drainage.

Environmental and disease factors can significantly influence flowering, pollination and fruit set.

Pumpkins should be harvested when mature to allow for longer storage. Pumpkin fruit are usually fully mature and ready for harvest about 3 months after sowing, or approximately 45 days after flowering. The fruit is harvested when the skin becomes hard, cannot be penetrated with a fingernail and lose its shiny appearance. The rind of mature pumpkins has a dull waxy appearance that has lost much of its gloss.

Harvesting is done by hand, using secateurs or a sharp knife, and the fruit is removed with 5 cm of stalk attached. A pair of sharp pruning shears is needed to sever the stem and create an attractive, smooth, clean cut.

During harvest, since the pumpkins on one vine usually do not mature at the same time, the person harvesting should put the following precautions into consideration to minimize damage to both the vine and the harvested fruit so as to prolong the shelf life of the fruit.

Once removed from the vine, the pumpkins will be put in a wooden or strong plastic field crates for transport to the collection site or packinghouse.

Pumpkin fruits are still physiologically alive even after they have matured and are removed from the vine. They need to be cured before storage. The objective of curing and storage is to prolong the post-harvest life of the fruit.

Curing involves elevating storage temperatures to 24-30°C with 75-80% relative humidity for about 5-10 days. Curing heals wounds, helps ripen immature fruit, enhances color, and ensures a longer post-harvest life. After curing, the temperature and relative humidity should be reduced to 10-13°C and 50-75%, respectively.

Pumpkins are graded according to uniformity in size, shape and color as well as appearance. Those that are injured or overmature are discarded. Most markets prefer the small to medium sized fruit, while canners and bakers prefer the large ones.
Harvesting and post-harvest handling of pumpkin fruit

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