It may have been your first time planting summer squash, and you wonder when they can be ripe enough for the taking.
This article shall explain what summer squash is and discuss the salient points that serve as signs for when to harvest them.
When to harvest summer squash? In summary, you will know it is the perfect time to harvest summer squash when its skin is glossy and soft. If you can pierce the rind with a fingernail, it is ready for eating. At this point, the fruits are immature and can be small, but they are quite tasty.
What Is Summer Squash?
Members of the summer squash family flourish from mid-summer onwards and produce abundant fruits that reach maturity in about two months.
These varieties include yellow squash, crookneck squash, straight neck squash, Patty Pan squash, and zucchini.
Most people confuse summer squash for veggies.
However, in reality, they are fruits because they have seeds and come from the flowering part of plants.
Additionally, although they grow during the summer, their name primarily points to the fact that they have a short storage lifespan.
This characteristic separates the bunch from winter squash, which is squash plants with fruits that require harvesting and consumption during its mature stage.
Nevertheless, you will find that summer squash can produce fruits even up to the signs of the first frost.
How Do You Know When Your Summer Squash Are Ready To Harvest?
You’ll know when to harvest your summer squash by looking at several factors: texture, size, time from planting, and color.
While the first three factors are excellent determinants for when to harvest, color can be a poor basis in many cases.
The first determining factor for harvesting summer squash is the surface texture of the fruit’s rind.
It will be tender and shiny, and it is easy to pierce with a blunt edge.
You can check this by piercing the rind with your fingernail, but be careful not to damage the fruit under the skin.
Most summer squash species taste their best when they are no more than four to five inches long.
However, you can keep oblong varieties growing up to 12 inches long and 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter.
For round breeds, the fruit tastes best when they are at least four inches in diameter.
However, you can grow them up to eight inches along the midsection.
Time To Harvest
Aside from the texture and size, commonly practiced growing durations are also excellent determinants of time to harvest.
From the time of planting, start counting up to 45 days before you begin checking which fruits have the right texture and size.
For fruits that come out later than others, you can let them grow to have the right attributes at most until 60 days from seed planting.
You can keep a record by marking a calendar on the planting date, 45 days hence, and 15 days after that.
Different breeds of summer squash have varying fruit colors.
In addition, the final colors of summer squash during harvest time also vary, even for fruits from the same plant breed.
As such, they are not as reliable determinants as size and texture.
That said, you’ll notice that the color changes become apparent as the fruits start to mature.
Patty Pan squash is usually white, but it is sometimes light yellow or light green.
Constricted neck varieties, such as the crookneck squash, tend to be light green to bright yellow.
Conversely, Italian marrows, such as zucchini, usually come in different shades of light to dark green.
While the yellow fruits turn deep yellow or bright orange as they mature, the green variants could stay green even when they reach maturity.
Nevertheless, all these varieties show symptoms of decay once the fruit starts turning brown.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Summer Squash?
Many homesteaders strive to grow large vegetables, including pumpkins, beets, broccoli, carrots, chards, and onions.
However, when it comes to summer squash, bigger is not always better.
If you leave them on the plant too long after their prime, large squashes grow seeds, become woody and stockier, and develop a bitter taste.
Leaving the fruits on the plant even longer can make them vulnerable to turning brown and rotting.
Furthermore, overgrowing summer squash can diminish yield since unharvested fruits signal the plant to stop producing more fruit.
Alternatively, harvesting the fruits while they are young encourages the plant to produce more as long as it still has pollinating flowers.
How To Harvest Summer Squash?
Now that you can gauge the best time to collect your summer squash, you should also learn the basics of harvesting them.
Harvesting the Fruits
More often than not, you’re growing summer squash for their fruits. Here’s how to harvest them when the time comes:
Step 1: Prepare your tools.
First off, you will need a garden pruner or a sharp knife.
With one, you’d be able to make a clean cut across the stem that holds the fruit.
Step 2: Carefully select your harvest.
Choose which fruits have glossy and tender skin. Also, check whether you can gently pierce the rind with a fingernail.
Step 3: Begin cutting.
Position the blade of your sharp knife or pruner on the stem at least two inches in length away from the fruit.
Doing so leaves a short stem attached to the fruit to extend its storage lifespan.
Cut across the stem and put the fruit into a harvest basket, preferably one with some padding.
Step 4: Repeat.
Repeat the process with all other remaining fruits that are ready for picking.
Remember that using a sharp knife is essential because the vines contain fibrous material that is pretty tough to break with bare hands.
Never pull or tug the fruits from the vines forcefully as doing so could injure the plant.
Harvesting the Flowers
Aside from the fruits, summer squash flowers are also edible.
Harvest them as you please, but be sure to collect more male flowers if you want the plant to produce more fruit.
You won’t need your sharp knife for this procedure.
Refer to the following steps when harvesting summer squash flowers for salads and stir-fries:
Step 1: Identify which flowers are male.
Summer squash fruits come from the thick stem of the female flowers.
The female flowers catch the pollen to fertilize and turn their thick branches into fruits.
On the other hand, male flowers grow on stems much thinner than those with female flowers.
Step 2: Select and collect.
You can tell when the flowers are ready to harvest right about the time they naturally fall off from their branches.
During this time, male flowers will have already released pollen and served their purpose for the plant.
Step 3: Leave some behind.
If you do not want to sacrifice future fruit yield, you should leave some male flowers on the plant to keep pollinating the females.
Without pollination, the plant won’t bear any fruit.
Harvesting the Seeds
Another thing you can harvest from summer squash is its seeds.
If you want to collect the seeds for next year’s planting season, you will have to wait for some fruits to grow past their prime.
Step 1: Wait for the perfect stage.
The perfect growth stage for collecting seeds is when the summer squash shrivels and presents a leathery texture.
Step 2: Cut it open, and scoop the seeds out.
At this stage, you can cut the fruit in half and scoop the seeds out with a spoon.
While doing this, notice how some of the pulp come off with the seeds.
Put anything you scoop out into a bowl to prepare them for segregation.
Step 3: Segregate.
Use your fingers to remove most of the pulp from around the seeds.
Next, fill the bowl with water and allow the seeds to settle for a few minutes.
Anything that floats, seed or pulp, is garbage, while any seeds that sink to the bottom are healthy and viable.
Scoop the floaters out with a slotted spoon, and put the good seeds on a towel to drain.
Step 4: Dry and store.
Finally, to put the viable seeds into a deep sleep, they need dehydration.
Stick them in an oven with the oven light on but do not turn on the heat.
The heat released by the lamps should be enough to dry the seeds for at least two days.
Once they’ve shrunk and dried, you can store them in an envelope for safekeeping.
Should You Wash Summer Squash After Harvesting?
If you hop onto online sources, you will find mixed answers to this question.
Some suggest washing away dirt, grime, and mildew before storage, while other sources say that washing is the number one promoter of decay.
You can decide to wash the squash depending on your storage method.
Since you can store summer squash in ice water in the fridge, you can rinse it with water before storage.
However, if you want to keep the squash in a sealable bag in the crisper of your fridge, you should avoid washing it beforehand.
Storing in this manner requires minimal to zero moisture inside the bag to prevent the onset of decay.
In essence, the best practice is to wash your summer squash only before consumption and not right after harvesting.
Washing is essential for cleaning and decontamination, especially in preparation for eating.
Without cleaning your harvest, the dirt, grime, and organisms residing on the fruit’s surface can also be the source of decay.
Nevertheless, you can clean summer squash without rinsing them with water or any cleaning solution.
All you need is a dry kitchen towel for wiping to remove all dirt and debris.
Can You Eat Summer Squash Immediately After Harvesting?
Since the recommended harvest time for summer squash is when they taste best, you can definitely consume them right after harvesting.
However, if you end up harvesting some fruits later than you should have, you might want to consume them differently.
Use older summer squash as stuffing for pies or for making zucchini bread.
This way, they won’t go to waste, and they can have better flavor with whatever you are adding into the mix.
As for the huge summer squashes that still lie around your garden, they have pretty much gone kaput.
These squashes have grown too large, too hard, and with extra-thick skin and overgrown seeds, making them bitter and unsuitable for eating.
Your best chance of putting these overgrown fruits to good use is by waiting until you can harvest their seeds.
When it comes to fruit and vegetable gardening, planting and harvesting techniques and practices are different across varying species.
Even closely-related plants, including the summer squash and the winter squash, have dissimilar planting and harvesting practices.
With our insights on harvesting summer squash, you can take care of your plants the right way and collect a big bunch of healthy squashes.