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When is the Right Time to Harvest Winter Squash?

October 30, 2009
Butternut Squash Ripening on the Vine

Butternut Squash Ripening on the Vine

If you’re still wondering when to harvest those winter squash and pumpkins, you’re not alone. Knowing when to harvest winter squash can be a stumper!

Our Gardenhelp.org readers have written in more than once to ask when to harvest their squash and pumpkins. (If you are reading this posting on any website than gardenhelp.org or said networked blog, know that this content has been stolen without permission. Please redirect to gardenhelp.org here.)

Most of winter squash are off the vine and stored in my root cellar by now, but my butternut is still struggling with one last fruit, so my vine is still going on the day before Halloween. It’s going to be a small squash, but every edible is worth the wait!

Read more to learn when to harvest your winter squash (and sneak a peek at the Peanuts gang celebrating the return of their favorite pumpkin as well):

Original Post from July 29, 2008:

J. Mack of Olympia, Washington asks:

“I have a question on growing winter vegetables. All of the web sites I have looked at don’t mention squash and yet I have planted a package of winter squash in my greenhouse, hoping to grow it this winter. Will it survive the winter if I put it out in the garden?”

Thanks for this great question. The name winter squash is pretty confusing when you come to find out that winter squash actually grows at the same time as summer squash. And, winter squash is usually harvested at the same time as (or just a little later than) summer squash.

I like to think of winter squash as a more hardy-to-store squash than summer squash. You can harvest an acorn squash or a butternut and stick it in a dark drawer for weeks without having it go bad. If you tried to do this with a yellow crookneck or a zuccini, you’d have a slimy, smelly mush pile in the drawer.

To know when to harvest the winter squash, you want to feel the skin to see if it has toughened up a bit. Try thumping a pumpkin for a hollow sound to be sure it is ripened. Some people like to leave them in the garden until after the first frost. I don’t know that this really helps “finish” the fruits, but it sure is fun if you have a big pumpkin patch, and you want to watch out for The Great Pumpkin.

Since you have a greenhouse, you could try to keep the winter squash vines going. This would require running heat and summer-simulation lighting in the greenhouse, which is no small task in the long, cold nights of Pacific Northwest winters.

That being said, if the vines are growing now & the plants are starting to put on flowers and fruit, you could try to get a crop out them. There’s time left yet in our short summer growing season.

Thanks again for writing in & good luck!

4 Comments

  1. Alice Eppinga says:

    My acorn squash, which I am growing for the first time, are getting quite large in my northern Greece garden, and I wonder if they should be harvested now rather than waiting until the fall. Does leaving them on the vine change the taste?

  2. rhaglund says:

    Alice, letting any plant ripen fully on the vine can enhance taste. Acorn squash is a good one to store; if you let it ripen and harden a bit on the vine, this can also help its ability to store into winter. However, if they’re ripe and you want to eat one early, give it a try!

  3. Matron says:

    I try to leave my Winter squash on the vine as long as possible to get them properly ripened. I just have to be careful they don’t get any frost!

  4. […] type of butternut seed is one I’ve grown in past years with great success. It’s a powdery […]

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