It’s getting to be the time of year when we need to think about harvesting all our fall vine crops.
How do we know when they are ripe and what do we need to do to store them?
Watermelon is ready for harvest when the tendril closest to the fruit becomes brown and dries up; they will have a hollow, dull sound. The spot where the fruit touches the ground changes color — yellow. They should not be harvested until fully ripe. Do not store with tomatoes, bananas, apples or cantaloupe as they are sensitive to ethylene — which these fruits produce.
Cantaloupe-style melons can be harvested at “full slip.” That means they are ripe when they easily pull away from the vine. They can be harvested a little bit early and left to ripen on the kitchen counter.
Honeydew melons will not continue to ripen or become sweeter after they are harvested. They also do not reach “full slip” so are harder to determine when they are ripe. Rind color changes and the presence of a sweet smell is the only way you can determine if they are ripe.
All types of melons should be stored at 95% relative humidity. Cantaloupe needs 40 degrees Fahrenheit, honeydew between 45-50 degrees. Crisper drawer in your refrigerator is ideal once they are ripe. Melons will have a two-week shelf life.
Winter squash and pumpkins should be allowed to ripen to full maturity on the vine. As they ripen, the rind will become increasingly firm and they should not dent when you press a fingernail into the skin. The vines also begin to decline when squash is ready and the vine immediately attached to the fruit should become hard and woody.
Winter squash and pumpkins should be stored at 50% relative humidity and around 50-55 degrees. They can last one to six months in storage, depending on the variety. If you leave them on the front porch, take them inside if a hard frost is predicted. After sitting outdoors for a month or more, they should be eaten quickly as leaving outside decreases their shelf life.
Properly stored squash will be viable as follows: butternut and buttercup — 3 months; acorn — 1 month; Hubbard — up to 6 months. Pumpkins, if stored under ideal conditions, can last two to three months.
Gourds have a storage life about the same as pumpkins. If you are growing bottle gourds, leave them on the vine but harvest before frost. I have had good luck in washing them off with a solution of 10% bleach and let dry. This prevents mold from forming in storage. (I have hung them on the clothesline for a few days in the sun before bringing them indoors.)
I have been successful hanging them separately in the basement for storage. A garage area would work if it doesn’t freeze in the winter. When you hear the seeds rattling inside the gourds, they are cured and ready to use. Some use them for bird houses and others cut off the top part and stain and/or paint and use for decorative bowls.
Potatoes can be left in the ground as long as the ground can be dug. However, if there is a lot of rain in the fall, you will want to get them dug before they start to rot. I hope you have been harvesting some of your potatoes while young as nothing tastes better than those first early potatoes.
You can brush off the dirt when harvesting but make sure you aren’t bruising the skin. Don’t wash potatoes until you are ready to use them. If stored properly, potatoes can be stored up to a year. Before the year is up, they will no doubt be sending up sprouts.