Growing and storing your own squash is a great way to practice frugality. It's not hard to do and saves a lot of money. Growing a lot of squash and eating it all winter gives you those fresh vitamins and nutrients that your body needs during the months when the garden is not producing. We love to do this every year.
|Our amazing squash harvest a few years ago...|
What are "Winter Squash"?
Winter squash are characterized by their hard outer shell that is hard to penetrate, making them ideal candidates for winter storage. Some examples include: Butternut, Pumpkin, Hubbard, Spaghetti, Banana, Sunshine, and Acorn.
When do I harvest Winter Squash?
Don't harvest squash too soon. The protective, hard outer skin takes time to develop completely. Squash is best harvested when the vines are dry and rinds have toughened. We usually wait to harvest all of our squash crop at once, just before the first hard frost. If some of the squash are not ripe, you can cover those plants with a tarp during the very cold nights to lengthen the season a little. Just be sure you make sure to take the tarps off the vines when it warms up during the day or you could kill the plants.
Don't harvest squash too late. Harvest Winter Squash before the first hard frost in your area. A first hard frost will normally kill the squash vines and compromise the shelf life of the squash if left too long on the vines afterward. We've successfully harvested squash a day or two after the first frost and they usually store just fine in the basement, but make sure you don't wait too long.
What is the best way to harvest Winter Squash?
When ready to harvest, cut the squash from the vines, leaving 2-3 inches of stem. Don't use the stems as a handle for carrying or else they might break, exposing the fruit to rot. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling winter squash, as it will also compromise storage time. For best results, harvest squash when dry.
Why and How should I cure Winter Squash?
Most squash need to be cured to extend their storage life (one exception is acorn squash which get a stringy texture if they are cured). The process of curing allows some of the excess water to exit the fruit. Getting rid of the excess water helps to concentrate the natural sugars, making the squash taste sweeter. Harvested squash continue to breathe or respire after being picked. During the curing process, the skin becomes harder, forming a protective layer over the flesh. That harder skin slows respiration, which ultimately improves fruit keeping quality. Harder skin also resists rot better.
Cure the squash in a warm spot for about 2-3 weeks. It works out really well that Halloween is in the fall, because we usually have several dozen squash laying around the house during the month of October. People might think we are being super festive (including our kids...), but really it's just our squash harvest curing.
What long-term storage conditions work the best for winter squash?
After squash has cured, transfer to a cool, dry place such as a basement or garage for long-term storage. Be careful to not allow them to freeze (around 50 degrees F is optimal). If you have to store them in a warmer temperature, be advised that it will mean a shorter storage time. Check squash occasionally, checking for soft spots, etc.
Got any questions? Ask away and I'll try to answer as best as I can. Got tips to share? Fire them away. Have a great weekend and enjoy this beautiful time of year.