As late summer rolls around, those large vines of winter squash are starting to reveal their prizes. Hopefully, the fruits have been sizing up all summer, and now is the time to give a peek and see how the harvest looks. Knowing when and how to harvest your winter squash is important. If you harvest too early, the fruits won’t be fully ripe and may not have the flavor you crave. In addition, the skin may not be tough enough for these fruits to be stored for an extended period. But if you wait too long, insects and frost may reduce the amount of usable harvest.
Although your fruits may be large, wait until they have the full color for that variety before considering harvesting them. For example, butternut squash should be tan colored and acorn squash dark green, yellow, or orange, depending on the variety. Another way to check if they’re mature is to test the skin. Press the skin with your thumbnail. If your nail doesn’t easily puncture the skin, they’re ready to harvest.
When picking, use a sharp knife to cut the stems 2 inches away from the top of the fruits. If storing for winter, wash the fruits with a 10 percent bleach solution to remove any diseases. Winter squash need to be cured to heal wounds and thicken the skin for storage. Place the squash in a warm (80 degrees F) room for ten days. Then move the squash to a cool (50 degrees F), dry room to store for fall and winter. Most varieties will last two to six months in storage if they don’t have any wounds that can rot and the temperatures are right. Also, in my experience, winter squash taste better and have a sweeter flavor if allowed to “age” for a few months in storage before eating. Pick through the squash in storage, looking for any that show signs of softening skin, and eat those first.