While you might be familiar with Butternut, Acorn, and Spaghetti squash, one of the rarer winter squash varieties is the Delicata squash.
Because of their unique sweet taste, more and more home gardeners are starting to grow them in their backyards.
However, the key to achieving this flavor is knowing when is the right time to pick them.
When to harvest Delicata squash? In general, winter squashes must be picked before any hard frosts. Otherwise, they will begin to decay as soon as they thaw. To preserve their rich and sweet flavor, harvest Delicata squash 100 days after planting, but not too early.
How Do You Know When Your Delicata Squash Is Ready to Harvest?
Perhaps the most challenging part of growing winter squash varieties is knowing for sure when to harvest them.
As part of the same family, the same is true for Delicata squash.
Here’s what you can do to determine if your precious Delicata squashes are ready for picking:
1. Check the rind.
Compared to summer squashes, Delicata squash has a much thicker exterior, making them suitable for storage through winter.
One way to test whether you can pick them or not is by performing the thumbnail test.
To do this, try piercing the rind with your thumbnail. If you weren’t able to pierce through the skin, you’d be happy to know that it’s ready for harvest.
2. Check the vines and leaves.
Aside from the skin, you can also check on the squash plant’s vines and leaves.
You will want to look for a general dryness of the stems. Also, the vine that connects to the fruit should appear dry.
If it still looks green and fresh, the fruit is not yet ready for harvest, even if the leaves have already dried up.
3. Check the fruit itself.
You can also check the fruit if there are color indications that the squash has matured.
If the squash is ripe, you will notice that the white rind is hard and is starting to turn cream-colored.
Orange hues will also be visible on some parts of the squash. Then, when you pick the fruit, it should easily snap off the vine.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Delicata Squash?
Delicata squash is unique in that it looks pale yellow, is thin-skinned, and has orange or dark green stripes.
Also called sweet potato squash, it is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, and potassium.
However, you can only enjoy all of these benefits if you harvest the fruits at the right time.
In case you don’t, though, what will happen?
Roughly speaking, the fruit will be ready to harvest around 50 to 55 days after the buds sets.
Leave them too long on the vine, and they will slowly lose their quality and long shelf life.
Moreover, there’s a good chance they will rot quicker than if you harvested them at the right time.
How to Harvest Delicata Squash?
Before you can harvest Delicata squash, you’ll have to make sure you give the plants the growing conditions in which they can thrive.
First, you must plant them in well-draining soil that is rich in nutrients.
You should also give your squash plants enough room to grow at a location that receives plenty of suns.
Vining Delicata needs at least 20 square feet of growing space, while Cornell Bush variety can make do with just four square feet.
It’s very important that you transplant them outdoors only when the risk of frost has passed.
Then, in about 100 days after starting the seeds, they’d be ready to harvest.
Here are the steps to follow when harvesting Delicata:
Step 1: Gather your tools.
As its name suggests, Delicata squash has a much more delicate rind than other members of its family.
For this reason, you will want to be very careful when harvesting them.
They also don’t store as well as other winter squash varieties, so make sure you handle each fruit gently is of the utmost importance.
That said, you’re better off using pruning shears when picking Delicata squash instead of manually pulling the fruit off of the vine.
Step 2: Cut the fruit from the vine.
The stem is what protects the fruit from early rotting, so make sure you leave two to three inches of it on the squash.
Breaking the stem leaves the Delicata squash prone to developing diseases and pest infestations.
By leaving them on the fruit, you will extend how long you can keep it in storage.
Step 3: Transfer to storage.
After cutting it off the vine, remember not to carry the fruit by the stem, as many unfortunate newbies have done before.
Instead, carry the squash from the bottom.
This is also when you should inspect each fruit for cracks or soft spots. You’ll want to eat any of these fruits first.
Others that are already too poorly damaged are better off tossed into the compost.
Should You Wash Delicata Squash After Harvesting?
Again, right after bringing in your harvest is the best time to check if there are squashes that will not fare well in storage.
These include those without their stems already, as well as fruits with cuts or soft spots on their exteriors.
It’s best to consume these immediately or give them away to neighbors and friends.
What do you do with the others, though? It’s simple; you need to prepare them for curing and storage.
Even with the Delicata squash’s hard rind, moisture is not its friend. As such, you shouldn’t wash it before curing or storage.
In fact, you must make sure to keep excess moisture at bay by wiping the fruits with a clean, dry cloth from time to time.
The only time you should wash them is when you’re about to cut and prepare them for your recipes.
Can You Eat Delicata Squash Immediately After Harvesting?
Growing Delicata squash does not end with harvesting them. Instead, you’ll need to cure them first before you can eat them.
Curing is a process of drying that allows moisture in the squash to evaporate.
It slows the respiration rate of the squash, which is very important for its long-term storage.
While it may sound complicated, it is actually really simple and does not require much effort.
You’ll have the best chance of achieving the best flavor and texture if you leave them out in the sun to bathe in the warmth.
When doing this, make sure you lay them out in a single layer and not stack them on top of each other.
They will need good ventilation to prevent moisture build-up, which can hasten spoilage.
If you’ll be curing them indoors, try to find a sunny spot that is warm and dry for the skin to harden some more.
The temperatures should be around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for the duration of the entire curing stage, which is about seven to 10 days.
One benefit of curing is that it enhances the squash’s sweet taste by concentrating the natural sugar content of the squash.
Its primary purpose, though, is to harden the rind.
When the rind hardens, it slows down respiration, which, in turn, resists rot and collapse, allowing for long-term storage.
While some say that small-fruited winter squash varieties do not require curing, we’d much rather prefer they do for a few days for the best flavor.
How to Prepare Delicata Squash
Delicata squash has been popular in the U.S. and Canada for years.
Although Butternut is the go-to in terms of popularity, Delicata is definitely one of the tastiest, if not the most delicious, variety.
An added bonus is that it is pretty effortless to prepare.
Unlike other winter squashes, you can actually eat the skin of the squash once cooked.
One of the best ways to prepare Delicata squash is by roasting it in slices, and here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Wash the squash.
It is very important to wash the squash beforehand, especially if you will be eating its skin.
Step 2: Start cutting.
Ensure you have flat surfaces by cutting both ends. Then, cut the center from top to bottom.
Step 3: Remove seeds.
You can easily remove the seeds by scooping them out. For this, you can use a grapefruit spoon to ease this process.
Step 4: Cut them into thin slices.
Similar to cutting a bittermelon into half-moons, cut your Delicata squash.
It is important that you cut them in equal thickness so that they will be cooked at the same time.
Step 5: Roast them.
Spray olive oil and then sprinkle pepper and salt. Then, roast the slices.
Set the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit and wait until the Delicata squash slices are nearly burnt to highlight that roasted flavor.
Is Delicata Squash Worth Growing?
Obviously, what we like most about growing Delicata squash is the harvest!
The yellow and creamy flesh is so incredibly sweet that the flavor alone more than makes up for all the hard work of growing it.
Even better, there’s more to it than its sweet taste.
Delicata squash is rich in fiber, is gluten-free, and helps in bone building and cell production.
Plus, it also helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and enhances eyesight.
You can serve it as a snack by itself, or you can bake it and use it as a side for a nutrient-complete meal.