Acorn squash is a small winter variety that needs to be harvested when the outer skin or rind of the fruit gets tough. Unlike summer squash varieties, you can store winter squash for several months after you harvest it. But for maximum flavor, you need to let the fruit mature fully before harvesting.
There are various ways to identify when acorn squash is ready to harvest. Depending on the variety, acorn squash takes 80-100 days from planting the seed to harvest, or 50-55 days after the fruit has set. All types of ripe acorn squash will be a deep glossy green color, and the yellow area where it rests on the ground will turn
How Do You Know When Your Acorn Squash Is Ready to Harvest?
Acorn squash reaches its full size relatively quickly, but it takes quite a while before the fruit is fully mature. It should never be harvested before full maturity.
When Should You Harvest Acorn Squash?
Knowing when to harvest acorn squash isn’t rocket science. If you follow these tips you won’t go wrong.
For starters, always check the number of days to maturity on the seed packet. This is important because different acorn squash varieties take longer to mature than other types.
Also, be aware that your local microclimate and the growing conditions in your veggie garden may affect the length of growing seasons.
A more accurate factor is to monitor growth and see when the fruit sets (see Recognize When the Fruit Sets below). Most varieties will be fully mature between 50 and 55 days after the fruit has set. For an accurate timeline, you will need to keep checking your plants.
But there are other factors you need to be aware of too. These include the color of the squash and the thickness of the skin.
You can harvest acorn squash when the fruit is a dark green color and the rind is hard. As mentioned above, the ground spot where the squash literally sits on the ground will turn from a pale yellow or sandy color to orange.
In the northern hemisphere, this will usually be in September or October, before the first frost in the fall. But not every squash will ripen at the same time or be ready to harvest at the same, even if they are on the same plant.
To double-check that acorn squash is ready to harvest, press your fingernail into the skin. If it penetrates the flesh easily the squash probably isn’t fully mature. If you have to push hard and scratch at the skin, the squash is ripe.
If any fruit isn’t completely ripe, leave it on the bush or vine and allow it to continue to ripen until it is fully mature. If you harvest acorn squash before the squash is ripe, its flavor won’t be as good, and it won’t store as well.
If there’s a high chance of frost, you can cover squash bushes or vines with a tarpaulin to protect the ripening fruit. Remove the tarp when the squash is ready to harvest.
Sometimes the stalks and stems of acorn squash vines and their leaves will start turning brown and dry out. The fruit, though, will remain attached to the main stem.
Usually, if you try to lift the squash from the ground at this stage, the stems will crack and break, indicating that they are ready to harvest.
Pick them immediately to prevent any possible deterioration.
Recognize When the Fruit Sets
Like other squash plants, acorn squash has male and female blossoms. The role of the male blossoms is to produce pollen that bees will inadvertently collect to pollinate the female blossoms.
Once pollinated, the small base of the female flower will develop into acorn squash. Fruit set is, quite literally, when the flower becomes fruit.
Although it’s not essential, it helps to know the difference between male and female flowers.
Male flowers tend to form on long, skinny stalks all along the squash plant and there are more of them. Female flowers usually grow close to the center of the squash plant and they aren’t as showy as male flowers.
As the fruit starts to set, you will be able to see the small embryo of the squash fruit forming at the base of the flower.
Can You Harvest Acorn Squash After It Has Bloomed?
You can only harvest acorn squash after it has bloomed. This is because the female blossoms are what will transform into the fruit.
In other words, you cannot harvest acorn squash before it has bloomed because there will be nothing to harvest!
Before the male blossoms start turning brown and dying, you can pick them and eat them. Try dipping them in batter and frying them for a delicious floral treat! They also make a great edible garnish on a salad.
If you are going to harvest the male flowers of acorn squash it’s best to do so in the morning. Male flowers appear before the female flowers and you should harvest them while they are still buds.
You can also harvest female acorn squash blooms and eat them, but you will inevitably reduce your ripe acorn squash harvest. So, be selective.
If you’re not sure which flowers are male and which are female, you can squeeze the back of each flower gently. The end of the male flower will be flat while the female will have a bulb-like embryo on the end. This is the fruit forming.
How to Harvest Acorn Squash?
Use a sharp knife or secateurs when cutting the stem of the squash carefully from the vines or bushes. If you want to break the stem without pruning shears or secateurs, be gentle and avoid yanking it.
Try to ensure that you keep at least an inch of stem attached to the fruit. The horticulturists at the University of Illinois Extension warn that cutting the stem too short can damage the fruit and cause early decay.
If any of the fruit you harvest is cracking or getting soft, cook it immediately. If it shows signs of rotting, chuck it out or put it on your compost heap. You may even find you have some involuntary seedlings next spring.
How to Store Acorn Squash
While you can store acorn squash successfully for your winter table, it doesn’t benefit from curing like most other types of winter squashes. Curing involves keeping squash at room temperature of about 70°F (21°C) for 10-20 days.
Instead, after you have harvested the acorn squash you want to store, put it straight into a cool, dry basement or garage where the temperature is between about 40 and 55°F (4.5-12.5°C). At this temperature, it will keep well for as long as three months – a shorter period of time than other winter squashes.
Ideally, store your squashes in a single layer and don’t allow them to touch each other. Piling them against each other encourages rot.
Acorn squash may be stored in the fridge for much shorter periods of time.
If you don’t have a suitable storage area, cook your acorn squashes and freeze them. The frozen flesh should last for up to a year.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Acorn Squash?
If you don’t harvest acorn squash, it will eventually start to rot and go mushy. If you’ve got a good crop, this won’t matter because you won’t even notice if you have to discard a few.
But it does matter if you harvest your acorn squash too early because the flavor won’t be fully developed. Also, acorn squash doesn’t store very well if they aren’t fully mature.
How Many Times Can You Harvest Acorn Squash per Year?
Acorn squash plants have a relatively high yield, with some varieties producing as many as five squashes on each plant. Usually, though, not all the fruit will ripen at the same time.
You can continue to harvest acorn squash until all the squashes are ripe. If the squashes on one plant all mature together, you will only harvest from the plant once. If they ripen progressively, you might harvest each plant two or three times.
Of course, if you have planted a large number of squash plants, you will probably end up harvesting more often than this during the growing seasons.
Acorn squash should be harvested when the fruit of the squash is ripe and the squash is ready to eat. Even if you aren’t planning to cook and eat your entire crop at once, or over a number of days or weeks, you need to make sure that the fruit is fully mature before you pick it.
Like other types of winter squash, acorn squash may be stored for months, giving you an ongoing stash through winter.
We have provided you with numerous tips that will help you identify when your acorn squash is ready to harvest. These range from gauging how many days from planting to harvest as well as from when the fruit sets.
We have provided guidelines that will help you see and feel the fruit to make sure the squash is ripe.
To get the best out of your acorn squash crop, it is essential to ensure that the squashes continue to ripen on the vine or bush. If not, it’s simply not going to taste the way it should!