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When to pick your pumpkins and how to make them last through Halloween

Picking them at the right time prevents them from rotting too quickly.

YARMOUTH, Maine — This time of year, everything is coming up pumpkins! From the spice in your coffee to the decorations at your door, Americans just love those orange gourds.

For those of you growing pumpkins in your garden, the tendency is to wait as long as possible to pick them, thinking they will have time to get even bigger on the vine. But Tom Estabrook of Estabrook's in Yarmouth said there are key indicators that the time has come to pick.   

"With all the rain we've had, many people are getting powdery mildew on their pumpkin plants," Estabrook said. "If you see white or grayish spots forming on your leaves, you have it. ... That mildew can work its way into the pumpkin and cause it to rot.  So go ahead and pick your pumpkins at that point."   

You should also pick pumpkins while the stems are still green. If you wait until the stems turn brown, the area at the base of the stem has started to rot right where it meets the pumpkin, which also shortens the pumpkin's shelf life.

If you grow or buy big pumpkins to carve jack-o'-lanterns, there is a trick for protecting the inside of the pumpkin from rot: "Coat it with Vaseline or petroleum jelly,' Estabrook said. He suggested coating the inside and all the edges of the mouth, nose, and eyes.

But the real key, he said, is to use a battery-operated candle.

"The heat of a real candle will melt the Vaseline and start the rotting process," he said. "You can use a real candle the night of Halloween because  you don't expect your jack-o'-lantern to last too much beyond that anyway."