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Heirloom Vegetables

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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Colorful gourds and pumpkins are popular fall decorations. Choosing the best ones and storing them properly is a crucial step in creating an attractive seasonal display.

Select Healthy, Mature Pumpkins & Gourds

According to Laurie Hodges, Ph.D., UNL Extension vegetable specialist, you should look for pumpkins and gourds that are fully mature. Pumpkins should have hard shells with a shiny surface that can't be punctured by a fingernail. This test weeds out those that have been picked too early and will tend to rot. Also check for firm, bright green stems. Weak stems often are a sign that the plant had foliar disease.

Mature gourds will be a dull color and will have stems or vines that are totally dry. Do not test gourds with a fingernail, as this may puncture or dent the skin and reduce the quality of the gourd.

Once the shell and stem have passed quality tests, pumpkin and gourd choices are purely personal. Misshapen ones are as safe to eat or handle as uniform ones. Blue pumpkins, white pumpkins, small pie pumpkins and other less common varieties are becoming increasingly popular.

Cleaning and Storage

After choosing pumpkins and gourds, there are many choices as to how to use them. Besides using them for cooking or other purposes, pumpkins and gourds may be carved, dried, polished or decorated. However, they must be stored properly so they don't rot.

Washing and disinfecting pumpkins and gourds is not required, but it often helps them keep longer. Wipe down or wash the exterior with a dilute bleach solution, about 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. This removes surface bacteria and fungal spores.

After cleaning them, store the pumpkins or gourds in cool -- but not freezing -- dry locations where there is some air circulation, such as in a basement or garage. Keep them off the ground to prevent moisture from accumulating around them and causing them to rot. To do so, many growers store the pumpkins or gourds on straw. Other options for homeowners include putting them inside a cardboard box, on an upturned flowerpot or on top of a couple bricks.

Avoid carving pumpkins more than a week before they'll be displayed, as they'll spoil more quickly.

Polishing decorative pumpkins is another popular preparation for display. Acrylic liquid floor wax and polyurethane spray work well and make the pumpkin shiny. Be sure not to eat pumpkins that have been treated in this way.

Drying Gourds

To dry gourds, leave them in an area that has good ventilation and is warm and dry, such as a garage or attic. Gourds should not touch each other while drying. They will shrink as they dry. Different sized gourds require different amounts of time to dry, but expect to wait several months. One way to tell if a gourd is dry is by shaking it. If the seeds can be heard rattling, it likely has dried.

A layer of mold may develop on the gourd during the drying process. Leave the mold until the gourd is completely dry; it usually will wash off then or can be rubbed off with a rough cloth or fine sandpaper. Dried gourds, if kept dry, will last indefinitely.


This resource was added October 2013 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


Contact Information University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180