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When is the Right Time to Harvest Winter Squash?

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Wondering when to harvest your winter squash?

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!

harvest winter squash like butternut

The name “winter squash” can be confusing!

Winter squash actually grows at the same time as summer squash. But winter squash is usually harvested at the same time as (or just a little later than) summer squash. However, the winter ones like pumpkins, butternuts, acorns, delicata, etc… will store for much longer. So you can eat them fresh in winter!

So, I like to think of winter squash as a more hardy-to-store squash than summer squash. For instance, you can harvest an acorn squash or a butternut. Then stick it in a dark drawer or cellar for weeks without having it go bad. But if you tried to do this with a yellow crookneck or a zucchini, you’d end up with a slimy, smelly mush pile of goo pretty soon.

Harvesting winter squash after a light frost.

Many will say that it is best to harvest winter squashes after the first frost. And this can often be true. That’s because a light frost can sweeten up the fruits. And it will help kill the vines so that it’s easier to see the ripe squashes. But this isn’t always the best “rule” to follow for harvesting.

Harvesting pumpkins & their relatives before a light frost.

Sometimes it is better to harvest winter squashes before a frost. That’s because squash plants often begin to suffer from disease like powdery mildew as they age. And if this happens, it’s important to remove disease from your garden fast. Sometimes you can remove parts of a diseased plant to keep it going, but soon enough you’ll probably want to pull out a really sick plant so your garden stays healthy. And that may mean you’re picking those pumpkins a little earlier than frost season.

How to tell if a winter squash is really ripe?

Ideally, harvest winter squash when the skin has toughened up a bit. And with pumpkins, try thumping them and listen for a hollow sound to be sure it is ripened.

What if the vine is sick & it doesn’t feel ready yet?

If your winter squashes don’t have fully tough skin, it may be okay to go ahead and harvest them. While picking early may not be ideal. When you’ve got a disease issue or a heavy freeze coming, you may want to go ahead and harvest winter squash. And some of them may still be slightly immature. However when you harvest winter squash, you can “cure it”.  Moreover, curing helps improve flavor. And it is really easy to do!

So how do I cure them?

Curing winter squash basically means picking the squash. And ideally leave some stem attached. If the fruits are damaged in any way, they probably won’t cure. And they’ll be more likely to rot. But with intact fruits simply store them in a cool location with good airflow for several weeks or months. And try to keep the fruits from touching each other. Touch points may encourage rot. Check the stored squash regularly. And discard any that go bad. As they age in place, you should begin to see them change from immature colors and thin-skins to tasty, cured, firm winter squash that’s ready to eat!

5 comments on “When is the Right Time to Harvest Winter Squash?

  1. Alice Eppinga on

    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 on

    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 on

    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. Lisa Fleck on

    Do you need to keep watering the squash until frost? We are in a drought and I don’t think mine will survive without me watering them. Thanks much!

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