Harvesting & Storing Squash

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Spray citrus and other tender plants with Cloud Cover to give them some protection from frosts. Bring houseplants indoors.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Clean up the garden by raking leaves and old flower blossoms out from under your shrubs. Roses and camellias especially appreciate this.
    • Empty birdbaths and fountains and cover them for the winter, to prevent water freezing and cracking the bowls.
    • Liquidambar and Japanese maple trees can’t be beat for fall color. Choose them now while you can see their bright colors.

Harvesting & Storing Squash

Winter squash and pumpkins are the gems of the garden. Inside their hard and sometimes unattractive shells is a bounty of delicious golden flesh. And to add to that, you can store them away without refrigeration and enjoy them all winter long.

New gardeners are sometimes confused by the name “winter squash.” In fact, winter squash grow during the summer months just as “summer” squash do. The difference is that winter squash develop a hard rind that allow them to stored for much of the winter.

Pumpkins and winter squash take a long season to mature. Planted in April or May, they will reach maturity by October. It’s best to time your squash crop so that the fruits can be harvested and put into storage before the first hard frost, at 27°F. Pumpkins and winter squash can tolerate light frosts that kill the vines only. If hard frost threatens before pumpkins or squashes are ripe, blanket the fruits and vines with a tarp or loose straw.

To grow squash for storage, wait until the vines begin to dry and the rinds have toughened before harvesting. To test for maturity, press a thumbnail against the skin; your nail shouldn’t leave a visible dent. Never rush to harvest winter squash because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Pumpkins are harvested when they are uniformly orange and the rind is hard.

Cut, don’t pull, ripe squash from the vines, leaving 3 inches of stem attached. A broken stem exposes the fruit to rot, so don’t use the stem as a “handle” for carrying. Cure harvested squash, unwashed, in a warm and sunny spot for a week or two. You can also allow them to “cure” in the garden in the warm fall weather. Take care to protect the fruits from cuts, scrapes, and dents, as all can lead to early spoilage.

Thinner-skinned types such as acorn, delicata, and spaghetti squashes should be used within two or three months of harvest. Skip the curing step and move them to a cool place immediately after harvest.

Hubbard, buttercup and kabocha squashes and pie pumpkins can be stored for 4-6 months. Butternuts keep best in storage, sometimes lasting until spring.

Store cured squashes in a room that is dry and cool – 50°-60°F is best – and make sure they have good air circulation. Humidity should be relatively low. Check your stored squash monthly to identify and use up any fruit that shows sign of decay.

During the winter months, when the weather is wet and cold, there’s something particularly satisfying about still being able to eat food from your garden. Enjoy the fruits of your harvest all winter long.