Harvesting And Storing Garden Squash

There’s something very satisfying about raising squash, potatoes, onions, carrots and other garden vegetables that keep for the winter. Maybe it’s a carryover from being raised by Depression-era parents. Having food in storage is comforting and reassuring.

Gathering squash in the fall adds to the charm of autumn. Squash that store well are called “winter squash,” and include types like Buttercup, Hubbard, Butternut and acorn.

How to tell if squash are ready for harvest:

  • Squash are mature if their outer skin is so hard that it can’t be indented by a thumbnail.
  • The skin becomes dull and loses it’s glossy appearance.
  • Some types, like Buttercup often have a “ground spot” that turn from yellow to orange when ripe.
  • Squash can be left in the garden as long as possible. Light frost (28 to 32 degrees F.) is fine, as it kills the vines but doesn’t harm squash fruits, but harvest before a hard freeze (below about 28 degrees F.) that can damage fruits.
  • Cut squash from the vines with about one inch of stem. Intact stems are important for storage life. Avoid picking up squash by the stem, as it can easily detach under the weight of the squash, leaving a wound that softens/rots quickly in storage. 

Storing squash:

  • “Curing” squash after harvest helps them develop a hard skin that prolongs storage life. After picking squash from the garden, cure them in a warm, 75 to 85 degrees F. well-ventilated location. Most garages are fine. Cure in a single layer, with good air movement between, rather than in a pile.
  • Cure squash for 10 to 14 days before putting in storage. (Acorn squash are an exception: they should not be cured. It doesn’t add to their storage life, and it diminishes their quality.)
  • After curing, store squash for the winter in “cool dry” (not cold) conditions of about 50 to 55 degrees F.
  • Squash varieties vary greatly in length of storage, from 2 to 6 months. If varieties with long life are desired, look for that quality listed in seed descriptions.
  • Squash often become sweeter, more mellow and flavorful after a month or two in storage.

Happy Gardening!