Some crops, such as leaf lettuce, have a short seed-to-harvest time when gardening. Winter squash, however, takes up lots of gardening time as they need an entire season to grow. But the wait is well worth it for them as they reach their mature size and are packed with flavor.
You can expect one to ten richly colored fruits per plant in your garden, depending on the type of winter squash you plant.
Winter squash, which has a well-deserved reputation for being a space hog in the garden, is typically avoided by small-space or urban gardeners.
However, some excellent bush-type squash plants can be grown in even the tiniest areas or containers and deliver the best flavor. However, when to harvest can confuse many gardeners, such as when to harvest summer squash or winter squash.
In our guide, you can learn much more about when to pick yellow squash, when to harvest zucchini, and much more. By the end, no matter the varieties you grow, you will understand the best time when to harvest squash for great success. (Learn How To Tell If Yellow Squash Is Bad)
When to Harvest Winter Squash
When you harvest winter squash, wear long sleeves, wear gloves and ensure you harvest at the right time, cure, and store your fruits properly.
Do this, and you can enjoy homegrown winter squash until spring.
Squash that isn’t fully grown stores poorly and is prone to decay. Look for these five indicators that it’s time to harvest winter squash:
- The seed packet’s stated days to maturity have passed.
- The fruit has been on the tree for at least 50 to 55 days.
- The mature color of the rind has turned from the pale green stripes of summer to a burnished golden tan.
- When softly tapped, the large squash rind is firm, and the fruit sounds hollow.
- Before the first frost, if possible. Don’t wait until the plants are dead from frost.
You can eat immature winter squash, yet even with tender skin, they won’t be as sweet as when vines die, and they fully mature and are cured toward the late summer.
Harvesting Winter Squash Tips:
- Using pruners or a sharp knife, cut the fruits from the vines. Do not remove the fruits from the vines by pulling or twisting them.
- On each squash, leave at least two to three inches of stem.
- Hold or carry a squash by its stem at all times to avoid bruising or damage to the fruits.
- If you break the stem or accidentally damage your squash, use them as soon as possible.
Winter squash is harvested about 55 days after fruit set and when ripened to its mature color.
Harvest Summer Squash and Other Types
Summer squash is picked when the fruit is still young and fragile in the summer. They will multiply quickly and often triple in size in just a few days.
Harvest before the center becomes pithy, and the seeds are huge. Knowing a few facts about each summer squash can make your squash better tasting. (Read Yellow Squash Leaves)
Zucchini types are at their peak when they reach 6-8 inches in length, while other varieties can be eaten up to 1 foot in length. Before harvesting, the zucchini should be dark in color and firm. When selecting zucchini, clip it off the plant with a sharp knife or shears.
Use for wholesome zucchini bread to make use of the excess.
Yellow squash comes in various varieties, ranging from 4 to 7 inches long when harvested and 3-5 inches in diameter. Pick young fruit daily, yet pulling squash from the plant can cause it to die. Take squash from the vine using a sharp knife or shears.
Pattypan (scalloped) squash is a summer squash that achieves maturity in 45-70 days. Check for ripe squash around every two days. Pattypan squash is suitable for harvest when it has a consistent hue, and a rind quickly scraped. Cut squash with a sharp knife or shears, and it can be eaten when the fruit is 2-4 inches in diameter.
Winter Squash Harvest
Harvesting squash takes place in the fall after being sown in the spring. The maturity days of the different varieties of winter squash vary.
In most cases, the squash is harvested after full maturity; however, waiting for vines to die back leads to a sweeter squash. Knowing the features of each winter squash plants can yield a larger harvest.
Butternut squash usually is mature around 110-120 days after planting. This sweet-tasting squash is ready when the outer rind gains a beige hue, and the skin cannot be penetrated with a fingernail. Cut off the vine with a knife, leaving 2 inches of squash stems as cutting too near the squash leads to bacteria entering the squash. (Learn How To Tell When Butternut Squash Is Ripe)
The acorn squash stays green throughout its entire time on the vine. In 75-100 days after planting the seed, most varieties are ready to harvest. When the acorn squash is fully mature, it will become a dull green color and have a deep orange patch touching the ground.
The toughness of the skin is the last ripeness test. When the color is just right, and a fingernail can’t puncture the skin, the acorn squash is ready to pick. Cut off the vine with a sharp knife or shears, leaving about 2 inches of stem attached to the squash to protect it from bacterial growth.
Spaghetti squash can be harvested 90-100 days after sowing. When it turns a golden yellow or dark yellowish tint, it’s time to pick this squash.
The skin of ripe spaghetti squash is tough and cannot be pierced with a fingernail. To prevent bacteria from invading the spaghetti squash, leave about 2 inches of vine attached.
The growing season for spaghetti squash ends after a gardener fends off squash bugs and squash vine borer, and plants are still thriving with unripened fruit to pick before the first frost. It is best to pick unripened fruit and try to ripen them inside. Here are a few ideas that might help:
Remove any dirt by rinsing and make sure the spaghetti squash is completely dry. You then place your squash in the sun, green side up.
Only squash close to maturity can be ripened from the vine, and you will have ripened your green spaghetti squash once it turns a yellow color. Use spaghetti squash, which has been ripened indoors first since these will perish first compared to ones ripened on the vine. (Learn How To Tell If Zucchini Is Bad)
After planting the squash seeds, the Kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) grows in about 85-95 days.
When this sweet squash is ready to be picked, the outer skin turns dark green to grayish-green with some orange spots. When Kabocha squash is harvested, it transforms from a spherical to a box shape, and after harvesting, the squash takes another 45 days to ripen fully and be properly cured.
Does Squash Continue to Ripen After Picked?
Warm-season crops such as pumpkins and squash must be picked before frost since they are susceptible to temperatures below 45° F.
Pumpkins and winter squash should be left on the vine until completely mature for the best storage life. However, the notion of maturity varies based on the type of squash, and determining the best time to harvest can be challenging in some circumstances.
The death of the vines does not always mean that squash is mature for storage, especially if disease or drought has played a role.
According to traditional wisdom, please wait until the hard skin is firm enough that a fingernail cannot readily puncture them. This method works for many types of squash and pumpkins, but not all.
Other Harvesting Tips
Cut the stem from the vine with a knife or hand pruners, keeping it with the fruit to avoid stem-end rot. Handle fruit with caution since any bruising or other physical damage can reduce shelf life.
Don’t worry if you’re still unsure about when to pick the fruit. After harvest, most winter squash varieties ripen quite a bit. Even green pumpkins will turn orange over time, though they will not keep for long.
Winter squash progressively converts starch to sugars in the weeks and months following harvest, increasing their attraction to our taste buds.
On particularly hot days, rotate them every couple of days and keep an eye out for indications of sunscald. Store the squash in a cool, dry place after a week of curing.
Winter squash becomes sweeter after a hard frost or two, but if temps dip into the high 20s, harvest and cure them under cover (-5 C). (Read How Much Sun Does Roses Need)
After harvesting, acorn squash can be stored for up to two months. If they begin to turn yellow, use them right away because they will lose their sweetness and flavor quickly at this point.
Winter squash should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place with good air circulation. After a few months of storage, most winter squash becomes sweeter and can be maintained for six months if properly stored. Buttercup squash can be kept for up to four months at the store.
However, you can find an over-mature yellow squash with a hard rind and seeds that affect the flavor.