Butternut squash is a type of winter squash that grows later in the season than other varieties. As a winter squash, its skin hardens making it easy to store and use across the late Autumn and Winter months.
But when is the ideal time to harvest butternut squash? How do you store squash so it doesn’t bruise or turn bad?
Keep on reading to find out when to harvest butternut squash and how to store it so it lasts throughout the winter.
When Should You Harvest Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is often planted in late spring and can take up to 120 days to mature. As a late grower, this means it is harvested later in the season too. They are best harvested early in Autumn between September and October.
Before harvesting your butternut squash, check the colour and texture of your crops.
Butternut squash is ready to harvest when the rind starts to change from a deep green to orange colour. The rind also becomes hard and will be difficult to indent with your fingernail. Finally, the leaves and vines attached to your squash will wilt and die.
Above all else, it is crucial to harvest your squash before the first frost. Squash is a plant that thrives in warmer temperatures and if left on the ground during a frost, the crop will be lost.
Not only will the colder temperatures become challenging for your squash, but also the damp conditions. Squash is prone to rotting and will do so if left outside on the ground for too long.
How To Pick Butternut Squash
When it comes time to harvest your butternut squash, it is important to take your time and care moving each crop. If they are damaged during the harvest, they’ll only be good for the compost heap rather than consumed during the winter.
First, make sure to check for signs that your crop is mature and ready for harvest. As mentioned above, check the vines and leaves, the colour of your plant, and the quality of the rind.
Next, you’ll need to cut your squash from the main vine. Use a sharp knife or secateurs that have been disinfected and are clean. Cut above the squash ensuring to leave between 2-6 inches of stem on each fruit.
Even though the vines have died at this point, it is still important to cut above the vine of each fruit. Otherwise, it will leave an open cut on your squash if you cut too close to the fruit, leaving it exposed to bacteria. It can make your butternut squash susceptible to mould and rot.
It is important to mention at this point not to carry your squash by the stem. The stem is not sturdy and will not hold the weight of your squash. Hold your squash by lifting and supporting the bottom to transfer it from your garden to storage.
Once all of your squash has been harvested, check each one individually for any cuts or bruises. This will help to see if any are too damaged to be consumed and which must be used first.
How To Store Butternut Squash
Before storing your butternut squash, you need to cure them. This helps your squash fully harden and protects them for longer before storing.
First, wipe your squash to remove excess dirt and moisture. Provide your squash with plenty of space in a cool, dry area. They need enough room so that each squash is not touching and allows fresh air to circulate. You also need to turn your squash every few days so that one side doesn’t become soft and the air can circulate your whole squash.
Curing takes around 1-2 weeks for your squash to fully dry and the rind to harden. Once hardened, your squash will be able to be stored for a longer time, up to 6 months.
Over winter, squash can be stored in several ways:
- A cool space such as a cellar. They still require proper air circulation to prevent mould from growing and your squash from rotting.
- At room temperature. If you don’t have a large enough cool space to store all of your squash, you can store them at room temperature, ensuring they receive fresh air. As the temperature is higher, they will not last as long and need to be used within 3 months.
- In the freezer. For squash that has been bruised or damaged during harvesting, you can remove the rind and dice your squash into cubes. The seeds can be cleaned, dried, and stored for planting the following year (or eating!) and the flesh of your squash can be stored in air-tight containers in the freezer. Frozen squash can last up to 8 months when prepared and stored this way.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know when butternut squash is ripe?
To know whether your squash is ripe or not, you need to look for 3 clear signs:
- What condition are the leaves and vines? If they have turned brown and are dry, then your squash is ready.
- How hard is the rind? As your squash matures, the rind becomes harder. Your squash is ready when there isn’t a mark left after pressing your fingernail into the skin.
- What colour is your squash? Butternut squash turns a calm tan colour all over. Your ripest squash will have changed from green to tan.
What month does butternut squash ripen?
This does depend on when you have planted your squash. Butternut squash takes between 100-120 days to mature. Most gardeners plant their butternut squash at the end of Spring, so your squash should be ready between September and October to harvest.
Can you leave butternut squash on the vine too long?
Yes, you can! After the vine turns brown and wilts, your squash is ripe and it isn’t providing any further nutrients to your fruit. If the vine then detaches from your squash, it can leave an opening susceptible to bacteria, leading to rot or mould forming. When your squash is ready to harvest, it is best to do so right away. Your squash can then be moved and stored in a cool, dry space to cure it.
And if you love squash, be sure to check out all our other guides about squash, or start with a few of these: