As we approach the arrival of the first frost, it’s time to think about harvesting and curing your winter squash. Cured and stored correctly, your winter squash can last through until Spring.
What is Winter Squash?
Winter squashes are characterized by tough skin that helps protect the flesh inside for an extended period. These types of squash differ from summer squash which typically has tender skin that you can eat, like zucchini and yellow squash. Some examples of winter squash include pumpkins, butternut, pink banana, delicata, and spaghetti squash.
You’ll want to be sure to harvest your winter squash before the first frost. This is usually sometime between mid-September and early October in most areas. You can know that your squash is ripe when the leaves on the vines are starting to brown and the stem is brown. If you thump the squash it should sound hollow. You shouldn’t be able to easily poke your fingernail through the skin.
To harvest your mature squash, simply cut the fruit from the plant leaving at least 1-3 inches of stem. The stem protects the interior of the squash, so once cut, handle the squash by the bottom. Don’t pick it up or carry it by the stem to avoid breaking the stem off. Be careful not to drop or bruise the squash at this point so as not to damage the skin.
Winter squash needs 7-14 days to properly cure. The process of curing helps to harden the outer skin. The harder the skin, the longer your squash will store. Curing also concentrates the natural sugars, making the squash sweeter. Any squash that is split or broken will not store well. Acorn squash should not be cured as the heat of curing will lower the quality of the squash.
Simply lay your harvested squash out in a well-ventilated, warm (80-85 degrees is ideal) spot for 7 to 14 days. You can leave them in your garden somewhere out of the way, or put them in some other warm sunny spot. If there is a possibility of rain, move them inside to a space like an attic with a sunny window or a greenhouse.
Storing Winter Squash
Once cured, you can store your squash in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Do not stack them together. Make sure that there is space between and around your squash for airflow and to prevent skin softening. Don’t store your squash near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which shortens the life of your squash.
Storage temperature should be under 70 degrees Fahrenheit with the ideal temperature being a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below that can shorten the life of your squash and encourage rotting.
How Long Will Winter Squash Last?
Most winter squash that has been properly cured and stored under ideal conditions will last 2-4 months. Squash with thinner skins like delicata, sugar pumpkins and spaghetti squash may not last as long. Pink banana squash is one of the longer-lasting varieties and will store for 4 to 6 months. You should check your squash regularly for softening of the stem or skin and use those fruits first. Rotating your squash can help prevent bruising and extend its storage life.
Winter squash is an important component of a survival garden. With a little planning and careful storage, they can carry you through the winter months providing flavor and nutrition for your family.