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 butternut squash is ripe for harvesting?
Skin Condition and Colour
The skin of the 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 squash is okay to be picked. To begin with, squash is a pale greeny colour, with vertical stripes, like the ones pictured below:
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 anymore 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 days 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.