The difference between throwing away bad squash and storing them for the long winter is knowing when to harvest them.
Besides proper harvesting, correctly storing your winter squashes is the key to enjoying them for many months.
When to harvest winter squash? Most varieties of winter squash are fully grown long before they are ready to harvest. Generally speaking, they need at least 100 days before you can harvest them. Despite having a long growing season, these fruits are definitely worth the wait.
What Are the Types of Winter Squash?
There are many different types of winter squash, but the most common ones are acorn, butternut, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash.
Before you can learn when to harvest them, you have to make sure you know the variety of winter squash you’re growing.
- Acorn squash is a winter squash with sweet, yellow-orange flesh on the inside and distinct longitudinal ridges on the outside.
- Butternut squash is one of the few winter squashes that grow on a vine. It has a sweet and nutty taste.
- Pumpkin is a type of winter squash that is round and orange or sometimes deep yellow in color.
- Spaghetti squash is available in a variety of colors. They could be yellow, orange, or even ivory.
How Do You Know When Your Winter Squash Is Ready to Harvest?
There are a few things to look out for to recognize if your winter squash is ready for harvest.
It is important to watch out for these signs because figuring out when to harvest winter squash is tricky.
Compared to other crops, they will be fully grown long before you can actually harvest them.
1. Check the seed packets.
The seed packets should have the crops’ number of days until maturity, indicating the period from planting to harvest.
It isn’t exact, but it should give you an estimate or a date to look forward to.
2. Test the skin.
Fully mature squash should have thick skin. You can check the skin of your squash via the thumbnail test.
To do this, simply press your thumbnail into the skin and see if it makes a dent.
You shouldn’t be able to dent the skin of winter squash.
3. Examine the stems.
The stem that connects the squash and plant should be thick, dry, and woody.
Avoid harvesting winter squash that has a fresh stem. They are not yet ready, and you should wait a few more days.
4. Observe color changes.
Immature squash will have vibrant color on its skin.
Squash that is ready to harvest will appear dull compared to an immature one.
You will also notice that the leaves and vines are dead-looking.
5. Leave your squash on the field for as long as possible.
It would be best for your winter squash to stay on the field for as long as possible.
However, if your area expects hard frosts or heavy rains, it would be best to harvest your winter squashes beforehand.
The same rule applies even if you’re harvesting a couple of weeks or days early.
What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Winter Squash?
The key to having perfect winter squashes is harvesting them at the right moment.
If you pick them before they are fully mature, they will not be sweet and ripe.
On the other hand, leaving the squash on the plant for too long will result in rotting.
It is also worth noting that leaving them through the winter is not ideal, as the plant will decay as it thaws.
How to Harvest Winter Squash
Winter squash is known for its capability to survive long-term storage.
However, this would not be possible if you don’t harvest and prepare them for storage correctly.
Carefully harvesting your winter squashes is the key to having fruits that last for a year instead of ones that rot in a month.
Step 1: Cut it off the vine.
Use a pair of gardening pruners or a very sharp knife to cut the squash from the vines.
Do not directly pull the fruits or twist them from the vines. Doing this will risk damaging the squash.
Step 2: Leave the stem intact.
When cutting the squash from the vines, leave two to three inches of stem on the fruit.
This is important to prolong the shelf life of the squash.
Step 3: Carefully handle the squash.
After cutting from the vines, carefully handle the fruits to avoid damaging or bruising them.
Do not carry the squash by the stem; instead, hold them from the bottom like you would a delicate ball.
Step 4: Use squash that is damaged.
If you accidentally damage or bruise the squash or break off its stem, use that squash as soon as possible.
Storing it will only cause the squash to rot. What’s worse, it will cause the others to spoil quickly too.
Should You Wash Winter Squash After Harvesting?
Instead of washing, winter squash requires curing before storage.
Not everyone does this, but we know that curing winter squash enhances their flavor.
There are several steps to take before curing your newly harvested squash.
1. Be careful of the stem.
Remember that a squash without a stem or a broken one will not store well.
There is one exception to this rule, though: the Hubbard squash. This variety of squash stores best when its stem is totally removed.
2. Do not harvest or handle wet squash.
After harvesting, use a dry towel to remove debris and dirt on your squash.
The goal is to keep your squashes dry, so do not clean the skin of your squash using water.
3. Only prepare blemish-free squash for curing.
Squashes that are bruised, cut, or damaged in any way should not be cured.
Curing can only help heal scratches and minor cuts, not deep ones.
You can cure slightly immature squash but always aim to harvest fully mature ones.
How to Cure Winter Squash
After harvesting, you must prepare your winter squash for storage.
Not only is curing effortless to do, but it is also essential for the prolonged storage of your harvest and enhancing their flavor.
Curing is a form of drying that allows unnecessary moisture in your squash to evaporate.
It allows the squash’s natural sugars to be concentrated, making the fruit sweeter.
Moreover, curing makes the skin of your winter squashes harder. As such, it slows the respiration rate of the fruit, which allows for longer storage.
To cure your harvest, simply let them sit in a warm and well-ventilated place for 10 days.
The temperature should be around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity levels between 80 to 85 percent.
Generally, you cure your squash outdoors, but if that’s not possible, you can do so in a warm garage or shed.
Remember to use a fan to provide the necessary air circulation.
How to Store Winter Squash
Once your winter squashes are cured, the next step would be to store them.
- The ideal place to store your winter squash is a dry, cool place around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity levels around 50 to 70 percent.
- Use a rack or shelf to store cured squashes. Do not put them directly on the floor.
- Keep your squashes dry to prevent bacteria and fungi growth.
- Store your winter squash away from ripening fruits such as pears and apples. Doing this will prevent the squash from rotting early.
- Regularly inspect your winter squash for spots. If some are starting to spot, move them away from the others. Spots are a sign of rot beginning to set in.
Can You Eat Winter Squash Immediately After Harvesting?
It would be best to wait for the curing process to finish before you eat winter squash.
While it may appear ripe and ready to eat, you’ll achieve better taste and texture if you allow it to cure first.
Winter squash is famous for its health benefits, and you can add it to plenty of dishes.
For instance, spaghetti squash is an excellent substitute for pasta if you want to make healthier choices.
It has a stringy texture that will complement whatever pasta sauce you have in mind.
Aside from spaghetti squash, you can make a lot of delicious meals using acorn squash.
You can bake, roast, steam, sauté, or simply put it in a microwave and cook it there.
With the right herbs and spices, it can be the perfect side dish for your favorite proteins.
As a superfood, you can never go wrong in choosing to grow winter squash in your home garden.
Regardless of the variety, you will find that these sweet-tasting fruits are easy to grow, harvest, store, and prepare.
You will love adding them to your dishes too.
They pack insane amounts of alpha- and beta-carotene, which is both very good for the skin.
Plus, they contain vitamin C, an essential nutrient that helps reduce the risks of heart attacks.
With all of these benefits, it’s no surprise that winter squash is one of the most common crops that beginner vegetable gardeners grow.