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WEST LAFAYETTE, IN -- It seems that pumpkins often mature much earlier than we would like, and this year may be one of those times. Although the season got off to a slow start, the second half of summer was extremely warm and may have brought the pumpkins on in a hurry. And unfortunately, the dry weather that we experienced earlier might contribute to an early end for the pumpkin plants, unless you were able to irrigate on a regular basis.

The conditions needed to store pumpkins until Halloween are pretty hard to find this time of year. For optimum storage, pumpkins need to be kept cool and dry with temperatures between 50 and 60 F and a relative humidity of about 50 to 70 percent. While this may be hard to find around the home, at the very least, keep the pumpkins as cool as possible and out of direct sunlight.

Pumpkins that are bruised or otherwise damaged will rot faster, so store only the best-quality fruit. Pumpkins should be harvested with a portion of the stem attached. But don't carry pumpkins by the stem; they're not as sturdy as you might think. Handle pumpkins carefully to prevent wounds to the rind. Cure (air dry) the pumpkins in a warm, humid area for about 10 days so that the rinds have a chance to fully harden. Then place into longer-term storage.

Under ideal storage conditions, pumpkins can be held for two to three months. However, considering the usual storage conditions found in the home, one month of storage is probably more typical. If you find the pumpkins that you harvest now don't hold until Halloween, keep your eyes open for farm stand or other pumpkin sales.

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