Science

Why Pumpkins Rot So Fast in Denver (and How to Keep Them Fresh)

Decaying pumpkins are just sad.
Decaying pumpkins are just sad. Creative Commons / Flickr user Michael
Ever notice that in Denver, pumpkins seem to decay into a pulpy puddle within a day or two of being carved? Well, it turns out there's some science behind that, and it mostly revolves around temperature and the pumpkins' cellular health.

According to some handy reporting by NPR, the best storage temperature for a pumpkin is between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But here in the Mile High City, our widely fluctuating fall temperatures make that difficult. With near-freezing temperatures common during the morning and at night, contrasted with balmy, 60- to 70-degree mid-day temperatures, pumpkins’ plant cells are constantly freezing and thawing, which causes pumpkins to rot.

Assuming you bought pumpkins already cut from the vine and kept outside a grocery store, this freezing and thawing process had already weakened the pumpkins' cellular structure before you even took them home and conjured up a design to slice.
click to enlarge
Glow at the Gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Denver Botanic Gardens Facebook page
But never fear! If there’s any authority in town that’s all too aware of these pumpkin challenges, it’s Denver Botanic Gardens. Each year for its Glow at the Gardens event, the DBG picks out, carves and maintains roughly 3,000 pumpkins so that it can display intricate jack-o-lanterns and larger-than-life structures. (The event is over for this year.)

How, we wondered, do the jack-o-lantern experts over at the Gardens keep their pumpkins at their freshest?

Taking up Westword's inquiry, they sent three suggestions, incorporated in this handy infographic:

Denver Botanic Gardens
Know of any other ways to keep pumpkins fresh? Leave a comment and let us know what tricks you’ve found!
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker