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When Are Butternut Squashes Ready to Harvest?

squash

Astronomically, we’re now in Autumn, which means that harvesting time for our butternut squashes is upon us. According to seed packets, the varieties I’ve grown this year are ready to be picked between September and October.

Of course, these dates are only guidelines, and before I go eagerly picking my squashes, I need to look closely to make sure they’re ready. Harvesting at the right time is important, and if I jump the gun and pick too early the squash’s flavour won’t have matured fully.

So how do you know when a butternut squash is ripe for harvesting?

Skin Condition and Colour
The skin of a squash is the best indicator as to whether the squash is ready. Give the squash a stroke to feel the skin. If the surface is hard and firm, the squash is good to go.

For me, colour is the biggest sign that a squash is okay to be picked. To begin with, a squash is a pale greeny colour, with vertical stripes, like the ones pictured below:

IMG_20130803_203239

As the summer progresses, the stripes disappear and the squash turns the more familiar yellowy-orange colour. When the whole fruit is this colour, harvest the squash.

Is the Vine Still Alive?
Squash plants are sprawling plants, and will soon take over an area of your veg plot. Tracking your vines can take some effort, but checking on their condition between the squash and the plant will help decide whether to pick or not.

A dead or dying vine will be brown and withered. Once a vine dies, the squash will not grow any more, and is ready for harvesting.

What’s the Weather Like?
The weather is also important when working out whether to harvest. Staying on the vine to fully ripen is key, but if the squash is picked too late into Autumn it may start to rot. This is often the case if the weather turns wet or frosty.

Should the ground become wet before the squash is ripe, try putting straw underneath the fruit to keep it off the surface.

A few day of warm, dry weather is also useful, as you can leave harvested squashes out in the sun to dry off.

Picking and Storing
When picking a squash, make sure you snip off above the hard, spiky stalky bit at the head of the fruit. This will help the squash keep better and prevent damage to the skin.

If you do harvest a squash before it is fully ripe, leave in a sunny spot to develop. This can help divert resources into the smaller squashes left on the plant.

Store in a cool, dry place over the winter. Try to keep the squashes from touching each other and they’ll last right through until the next spring.

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11 Comments

  1. LizSeptember 5, 2013 at 2:23 pmReply

    Thanks for the advice! We have had a monsoony type of summer here in Washington State and I have been worried about the wetness sometimes, as my garden was focused mainly on squashes this year. This is the first year I have grown butternut squash and I have several.

  2. Jono

    JonoSeptember 6, 2013 at 10:37 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Liz,

    Thanks for your comment. How many plants did you have in, sounds like loads!

    Squashes are such a great thing to grow. Interesting, tasty and they keep for ages.

  3. SparrowgrassSeptember 9, 2013 at 7:30 amReply

    This is very timely advice for me-thanks! I’ve got 8 butternut fruits grown on my next-door allotment but now my neighbour wants his land back and the butternuts could do with another 2or3 weeks. Now I feel a bit better about bringing them home. I’ll leave them in the sun and hope they’ll ripen enough to enjoy.i also have 3 pumpkins- picked green but they are all turning orange. I hope that means that they are ripening and getting a better flavour. Planted in a pit filled with horse muck and watered only until they established, they still did well. I’m thrilled!

  4. LizSeptember 9, 2013 at 1:44 pmReply

    I actually only have 5 (does that count as several?), possibly 6. Glad I checked them the other day and took your advice to protect their undersides, as we have had great gushes of rain lately. Next year I want to plant the big squash I had seen your pics of but cannot remember the name (Prince something?). I think I have to get seeds from a specialty shop as I haven’t seen them in stores.

  5. Jono

    JonoSeptember 9, 2013 at 8:42 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Sparrowgrass – glad you’re happy with the squash. They’re really entertaining to grow, one of my plot favourites. Loads of different varieties and add interest to a plot.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many squashes at out local allotments. Was always quite surprised by that.

    Hi Liz, thanks for your comment. Yes, it is Crown Prince. They look amazing, I’d definitely recommend growing them. The bright orange flesh is a lovely contrast to the greeny skin and they keep for ages.

    I can send you some seeds – think I’ve got some spare ones somewhere?

  6. SparrowgrassSeptember 10, 2013 at 7:50 amReply

    I think Crown Prince must be a cross between Autumn Crown and Prince Regent. I’d heard good things about it but couldn’t get it to germinate – I tried with two whole packets over about 6weeks but all failed. I had some seeds replaced by Suttons and will try again next year. Any tips?

  7. Jono

    JonoSeptember 10, 2013 at 8:33 pmReplyAuthor

    I start them off in pots of multicompost, under cover at first.

    I think temperature is important too. I don’t plant them out until June.

    I use this method too, as it helps give the plants the water they need: http://www.realmensow.co.uk/?p=735

  8. LizSeptember 11, 2013 at 12:45 pmReply

    Thanks so much for the offer of seeds! If I cannot locate them in the U.S., I will beg from you for sure.

    Just read a reason they might not germinate is they should be placed vertically when started instead of lying flat as they tend to rot before germination. Am going to try that.

    I forgot to use your mom’s method of planting squashes, so spent a considerable amount of time watering this summer. Am going to try it for certain next year, thanks!

  9. jane manbyOctober 5, 2013 at 9:15 amReply

    hi there
    this year I grew Waltham butternut Squash and the results were very good. the plants were healthy and had a lot of fruit on each plant however our problem seems to have been pollination because after getting a lot of fruit on each plant many just went soft and dropped off. The ones that did grow are big and fat. We had a very dry hot beginning to the summer followed by a sudden cold and wet patch where the bees just didn’t show up this seemed to coincide with the bulk of our female flowers and of course hand pollination which is iffy at he best of times was impossible in the wet.

    am I expecting too much for you to have a solution to this, it did also affect the rest of our squashes and cucumber, cucimelons and marrows. err we grow a lot, they store well and we like them. what wasn’t affected too much were the apple cucumbers and the lemon sparkle cucumbers.

  10. AntonyOctober 17, 2013 at 12:03 pmReply

    I planted 2 Waltham butternut squash plants straight into a big manure pile from our pigs and have pretty much just ignored them over the months, the plant is now begining to die back and has revealed about 20 big fat squash, unfortuanetly they are not quite ripe enough to harvest yet. Would it be best to leave the squash in-situ until the plant completely dies back or crop them now and store to ripen.

  11. Jono

    JonoOctober 17, 2013 at 7:42 pmReplyAuthor

    Hi Antony – I’d harvest them now. The temperature is getting colder and also it is damp outside. The damp could easily rot the fruit.

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meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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