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Ornamental gourds are an indispensable element in autumn decorations. But sooner or later the pretty fruit will wrinkle or begin to rot from the inside out. The shelf life of the pumpkins can be extended in different ways. This starts with the right harvest and extends to proven methods of preservation. In this article, we explain how to determine the perfect harvest time, how to harvest it professionally and how to keep the fruit for a long time.
As with edible pumpkins, ornamental pumpkins are annual climbing plants with impressive growth performance. From the summer, the fruits develop on the plant. Ornamental gourds can be one or more colors, but what they all have in common is their unusual, sometimes bizarre shape. Real ornamental gourds are less suitable for consumption. This is not only due to the fact that they contain little pulp, but a lot of bitter substances. Many ornamental gourds also contain cucurbitacin, which is toxic to humans. For this reason, the purely ornamental gourds can only be used as pretty decorative elements. The most popular varieties include:
- Autumn Wing (Indian Pumpkin)
- Pear bicolor
- Dancing or Spining Gourd
- Gourd (Gourds)
- mini ball
- devil claws
- Wart Squash
The ideal harvest time
Most ornamental gourds take between 85 and 120 days from seed to fruit setting. However, you have to be patient for a few more weeks so that they can mature well. Unripe pumpkins are difficult to store. Depending on the variety, the time of sowing and the weather, the harvesting of ornamental pumpkins begins in summer and lasts until autumn. If the weather permits, leave the ornamental gourds on the mother plant for as long as possible. However, cut off the squash fruits before the first frost. The cold temperatures ruin the beautiful skin and also reduce the shelf life. You can tell when the pumpkin is ripe by the following characteristics:
- colorful outer skin (e.g. a rich orange)
- death of the mother plant
- hard, difficult to pierce shell
- sounds hollow when tapped
- dry, slightly woody stem
- Stem should no longer shine
- preferably harvest on dry days around noon
Harvest ornamental gourds properly
Always use clean and sharp cutting tools when harvesting, leaving a smooth, small cut that can dry quickly. Large wounds, such as those caused when breaking off, heal poorly and are therefore potential entry points for pathogens and germs. Suitable tools are either pruning shears or a sharp knife. After harvesting, examine each individual fruit more closely. If it has bruises, injuries or already rotten areas, it is best to throw this specimen away immediately. It is not suitable for preservation. Fungi, bacteria or viruses can penetrate through the damaged areas and promote decomposition. In the worst case, the rot will spread to the neighboring ornamental gourds and destroy the entire harvest. Only fruits with an absolutely undamaged outer skin are suitable for drying or storage.
- Leave 3 to 5 cm of the stalk on the pumpkin
- leave dried flowers on the fruit
The main reason why pumpkins rot after harvesting is not only the high water content, but above all contact with germs such as fungi and bacteria, which decompose the fruit and lead to mold growth. Ornamental gourds are generally a little less endangered than their edible relatives, as they contain significantly less pulp and therefore water. Nevertheless, there is a great danger that the fruit will rot after a short time. Therefore, the skin should be cleaned after harvesting. Preferably use a soft cloth for cleaning. Steel wool or brushes can damage the sensitive outer skin.
- wash in the sink with lukewarm soapy water
- rinse with clear, cold water
- leave to dry on newspaper or kitchen paper
In order to kill germs that are deeper-seated, you can briefly place the pumpkins in a bath with diluted household bleach after cleaning and then rinse them off with clear water. Make sure you have the necessary protective equipment. Safety goggles and gloves are highly recommended when working with the bleach. Alternatively, you can rub the dry fruit with alcohol.
Preserve ornamental gourds
There are various methods to counteract the decomposition. When making a selection, the main thing is whether the ornamental pumpkin should stay fresh or last a long time as a decorative object. As a rule, the harder the skin of a pumpkin is and the less pulp it contains, the better it can be preserved.
After cleaning, it is important that the ornamental pumpkin can dry well first. However, do not store the pumpkins in the blazing sun, because the sunlight will bleach the colorful skin. In addition, high temperatures promote internal decomposition, so that the pulp begins to ferment or rot.
- well-ventilated, shady place outdoors
- in damp weather conditions: shady, warm window sill
- Temperature: 15°C to 20°C
- Support: newspaper or wooden board
- rotate occasionally
In mild, dry weather conditions, the pumpkin peel is already well dried on the vine. The situation is different if the harvest takes place in damp or cool weather. In this case, the ornamental gourds must be pre-dried for about a week.
1. Short-term preservation
If you want to use the pumpkins immediately as autumn decorations, you can rub their skins with wax after they have been cleaned and dried. This keeps pathogens away and also ensures a beautiful shine. Are suitable:
- Floor wax (but smells a bit strong)
notice: Lacquers of any kind are not suitable for preserving a fresh ornamental gourd.
It is possible to store an ornamental gourd in a cool, dry space for up to several months. It is important to keep the water in the fruit for as long as possible, thereby keeping it fresh and crunchy. Place the cleaned and pre-dried gourds preferably in a wooden box or on wooden boards. Better yet, letting some wadded up newspaper or straw under it allows the air to circulate and the squash to dry off. The individual fruits must not touch each other when stored, so leave enough space between them and do not stack the squashes on top of each other.
- Temperature: 12°C to 18°C
- good air circulation
- darkened as much as possible (no direct sunlight)
- low humidity (to protect against mold)
- do not store in the refrigerator (too humid and too cold)
- rotate occasionally
- Shelf life: between three and five months, depending on the variety
The best way to keep ornamental gourds for a long time is to dry them. However, not all varieties are equally suitable for this type of preservation. Soft-skinned, thick-fleshed fruits shrink as they lose excess water, losing their attractive shape. It is different with hard-shelled ornamental gourds such as the bottle gourd. The shell is so stable that it does not give way when it dries.
You will get the best result if you dry the washed and disinfected pumpkin in two steps. The first thing to do (as described above) is to eliminate the surface moisture. The second step is to dry the pulp inside the hard shell. Drying the inside of the squash requires a little more persistence and care. The top priority for successful preservation is slow drying. If the moisture is released too quickly, the fruit shrivels and can no longer be used for decorative purposes. Depending on the variety and environmental conditions, drying can take between three and six months, in extreme cases up to a year. You can tell when the ornamental gourd is ready for use when you lift it. If it feels very light and rattles when you shake it, it's dry.
- Temperature: 15°C to 20°C
- the lower the humidity, the better
- below 25% are optimal
- Garage, attic, dry basement or pantry
- Support: newspaper, sawdust or straw
- turn every few weeks
tip: To refresh the colour, you can rub beeswax on the dried fruit.
Alternative: hang ornamental gourds
Ornamental gourds dry even better if you hang them up. This will help you avoid bruises and accumulations of moisture that lead to spoilage. Just wrap a thick thread and the stem and hang it in a dry, dark place. The pumpkins must not touch the wall or each other, but must hang freely. In general, it is possible to drill a few holes in the bottom of the pumpkin so that the moisture can escape more easily. However, there is a very high risk that you will introduce germs into the interior, which will lead to rapid rotting. To prevent the escaping juice from leaving unsightly stains, you should place a flower coaster or an old bowl underneath.
tip: When tapping, be sure to use freshly sanitized tools such as a drill dipped in alcohol.
Check the squashes about once a week and discard any specimens that begin to rot, shrivel, or soften. Despite the best storage conditions, mold can occasionally form on the shell. However, the ornamental pumpkin is not yet lost. Simply wipe with a dry cloth or a cloth dipped in bleach. As long as the squash is still nice and hard, it should be fine despite its appearance.