From the fruit and blooms to its seeds, you will find many uses for squash.
For this reason, this flowering plant from the gourd family is among the most popular for growing in vegetable gardens.
When to harvest squash? In trying to figure out the best time to harvest squash, the most important consideration is the kind you’re growing in the first place. Harvest summer squash when they are still small at around six inches. For winter squash, wait until the end of the growing season.
How Do You Know When Your Squash Are Ready to Harvest?
To answer this question, you will first have to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of squash.
Generally speaking, you can categorize them into two main varieties: summer and winter squash.
Summer squash is those varieties with tender and thin skin, such as the yellow straight neck, pattypan, yellow crookneck, and zucchini.
Because of this thin rind, you can eat summer squash without removing the skin.
These fruits are often smaller, too, and their non-trailing bushes grow rather quickly.
As mentioned, it is best to pick summer squash before they are fully mature.
In doing so, you can be sure that the rinds and the seeds don’t harden too much that they become inedible.
Also, the fruits will develop a bitter flavor if you fail to harvest them early.
To check if they are ready to harvest, you can try puncturing the skin with your fingernail.
If you can do this effortlessly, then you will know that the rind is still tender.
In comparison, winter squash varieties have more rigid and thicker rinds that are generally considered inedible.
Yet, because of this, you can store them for weeks on end, well into the winter months.
Among the most popular kinds are acorn, Hubbard, buttercup, spaghetti, and butternut squash.
You will know they are ready for picking when they feel solid and sound hollow if you tap the exterior lightly.
Usually, this will be around the first frost, which is the biggest indicator that the growing season is coming to an end.
To check if the fruits are the right ripeness, do the same test and try piercing the skin using your fingernail.
If you could not puncture it, that just means the skin is thick enough to withstand the cold season.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Squash?
One of the reasons why squash is a popular home garden plant is because it is quick-growing.
Given the right conditions, summer squash will be ready for picking in about two months or 60 days.
Often, you will have to harvest them throughout the summer months.
On the other hand, winter squash does not grow as fast but is still quick enough that you won’t get bored waiting for it.
The fruits will mature and show a vibrant color anywhere from 80 to 110 days.
With that said, what will happen if you leave them attached to the plant too long?
As mentioned, you will want to harvest summer squash before it matures fully.
If you allow them to grow too big, the rind will become thicker, and the fruit will lose its flavor.
When this happens, you’d be better off discarding them by throwing them into the compost pit instead.
For winter squash, you can leave them on the vine for as long as possible.
In fact, some say that you can do this until the stem has dried and browned to achieve the best flavor.
How to Harvest Squash
The best part of growing any plant is the harvest, as you’ll be able to see the product of all your hard work.
You would then be able to enjoy it by using the product in your recipes.
To harvest squash the right way, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Prepare your tools.
Before anything, you will need to gather your tools first.
The goal is not to damage the stem because it is responsible for protecting the fruit from pests and rot.
As a result, you would be able to store the squash longer.
To ensure you don’t damage the stem, use a clean and sharp pair of pruners when harvesting squash.
You can also use a sharp knife if that’s your preferred harvesting tool.
Step 2: Cut the fruit from the bush or vine.
Using your pruners or your knife, cut the squash from the vine (winter variety) or bush (summer variety), leaving around two to four inches of stem.
Again, you will want to protect the stem so that the fruit does not spoil too quickly.
One simple trick is to carefully carry the fruit from the bottom instead of doing so by the stem.
Please note that this rule does not apply to Hubbard squash, which will last longer if you completely remove the stem.
Step 3: Cure winter squash before storing.
Summer squash is ready to be cooked and eaten immediately after harvesting. However, the same cannot be said about winter squash.
To achieve the best taste and make them last longer, winter squash will require curing before storage.
Curing is the process of allowing the fruit to dry and get rid of excess moisture.
By letting extra moisture evaporate, you will slow down the fruit’s respiration rate, making it last longer in storage.
At the same time, the natural sugars in the fruit become even more concentrated.
In turn, it will make the squash taste sweeter.
To cure winter squash, leave it outside under the sun for a week after picking.
The weather has to be warm and dry for the fruits to cure properly.
If it is too cold in your area, you can cure squash indoors by placing them near a sunny window where temperatures range from 80 F to 85 F.
Wait up to 10 days before you transfer them to their proper storage place.
Step 4: Store in a cool, dry place.
By following the curing techniques we just talked about, you can expect your winter squash to last until spring.
However, you should also make sure you store them properly.
The perfect condition to store squash in is in a well-ventilated area that isn’t too humid but not too dry either.
Temperatures should stay within 50 degrees to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do not place directly on concrete floors, as they are known to absorb heat and cold.
Also, we don’t advise piling them on top of each other, too. Instead, you will want to allow air to circulate between each fruit.
If you’re storing squash along with other products, keep them away from those that produce too much ethylene, like apples and pears.
Should You Wash Squash After Harvesting?
While you will want to get rid of dirt on the rind, we don’t advise washing summer squash before storing it.
Doing so will introduce extra moisture to the fruit and hasten spoilage.
Instead, it would be best if you only wash them when you are ready to eat or use them in your recipes.
When you are, you can simply wash the dirt off under cool running water.
How about winter squash? Do you need to wash them after harvesting?
Even if winter squash varieties have thicker skin, you wouldn’t want to use water to clean it after harvesting.
This is for the same reason that too much moisture will most likely cause it to spoil quickly.
Rather than water, use a dry towel to wipe away dirt and debris.
We also recommend curing and storing only blemish-free fruits or those without punctures or bruises to protect the others from spoiling too quickly.
Can You Eat Squash Immediately After Harvesting?
If you harvest summer squash at the right time, when it’s about six inches long (or wide if you planted pattypan squash), then you can eat it right away.
All you will have to do is wash it and use it in your recipe.
To store the remaining harvest, simply wipe them clean, place them in a plastic bag with holes poked in, and toss the bag in your fridge’s crisper drawer.
Consume within four days to one week.
In comparison, you can trust winter squash a whole lot longer.
You can consume them immediately after picking, but they require curing if you want to store them longer.
Also, winter squash varieties have much thicker skin than their summer counterpart, which means you’ll have to peel the fruit before eating it.
How long they last will heavily rely on the variety of winter squash you grow.
For example, blue Hubbard squash can last anywhere from six to seven months.
However, spaghetti squash will start rotting in about four to five weeks.
The same is true for acorn squash, which only lasts four weeks in storage.
If you’d like to have a constant supply of this nutrient-rich and delicious fruit, you might want to pickle them.
Cooked as a vegetable, adding squash to your diet is easy because of its excellent flavor profile.
More than that, you will also have a good source of vitamin C and fiber, as well as iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, and vitamin A.
If those benefits aren’t good enough reasons to grow them in your home garden, we don’t know what is.