This time of year, a fall favorite is now ready to be picked off their vines, and with a variety of uses they are handy to have around.

You always want to harvest pumpkins when they become mature.

At this stage, the rind is hard (resists denting by thumbnail pressure) and the pumpkin has developed the characteristic color for that cultivar. As a general rule, naturally aging vines are indirect indicators of pumpkin maturity. However, to ensure good keeping quality, mature pumpkins should be harvested prior to cold damage, which increases the likelihood of storage rots. When harvesting, leave three to four inches of stem. Pumpkins with stems removed do not store as well since the stem scars may afford rot organisms convenient entry.

Here are some suggestions for harvesting and storing your pumpkins:

Establish, fertilize, and manage the crop properly so that healthy (free of disease, insects, and mechanical injury) pumpkins are available for harvesting.

Harvest the fruit when it is mature and the rind is hard, but before night temperatures are below 40 degrees F and well before a frost or a hard freeze.

Harvest the fruit when it is dry. Do not handle wet fruit.

Harvest, handle, and store fruit carefully to avoid injuries.

Discard all fruit that is immature, injured, or has rots or blemishes. These fruit should not be harvested or stored.

Do not pick up freshly harvested fruit by the stem since many will separate from the fruit and provide easier access for rot organisms.

Do not stack the fruit higher than three feet (ideally, single layer for large pumpkins).

Do not permit harvested or stored fruit to get wet. Usually pumpkins are not washed, but if washing is necessary, be sure the water is chlorinated.

For better keeping, some growers cure pumpkins for 10 to 20 days at 80 to 85 degrees F with good ventilation.

Harvested fruit should be stored with good ventilation at temperatures from 50 to 55 degrees F and relative humidity between 50 to 75 percent. Refrigeration temperatures (35-40 degrees F) may cause chilling injuries and shorten shelf life. High temperature storage will result in excessive loss of weight, color, and culinary qualities. High humidities may promote rots. Storage life without significant loss in quality is typically two or three months.