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Butternut Squash – When to Harvest

It always amazes me how much conflicting information is online about almost any subject. And that includes when to harvest butternut squash.

Understandably, that can cause a lot of problem for gardeners looking for a correct answer. Especially difficult I would think, for new gardeners who have no experience to help them determine whether the information given is right or wrong.

Just as an example, I read one article on harvesting butternut that sounded good. Only thing is, a lot of the wording could be misunderstood by gardeners who have no experience. At the end the article, they gave a little bio on the author and come to find out she was an attorney and a professional writer. No gardening experience. I couldn’t help but shake my head.

Good Advice from a Friend

Took me 33 years of gardening to discover butternut and grow it. As I explained in my first post on butternuts in 2011, I became interested in growing them because I had friend who had great success with them.

The best part of having a friend who was a successful grower, was being able to ask questions about when to harvest. His advice still sounds pretty good: “They’re ready to harvest when they turn a peanut color and the stem is tan (brown) and cracking. When mature, the outside of the squash will resist the light pressure of your fingernail.”

After growing butternut squash again this year, I’ve decided that as easy as his advice sounds it’s not always that easy to make a decision.

Curing

When I grew butternuts last (2011), I cut them as soon as they were the right color and the stem was grey/brown and very hard. They kept beautifully, although I can’t remember how long it was we actually kept them before eating them. At least into the year after harvest. I didn’t “cure” them.

I noticed that the various catalogs talk about “curing for 7 to 10 days in the sun to harden the rind which increases the storage quality.” Since catalogs mention it, I feel it’s something we should consider IF we plan to store our squash through the winter.

For many years I’ve been successful in following my “gut” feelings. You probably have too, if you’ve gardened for any length of time. Somehow, cutting those squash and leaving them in the sun for over a week is not something I feel right about doing.

I just left them on the vines (that are drying) and will harvest the ripe ones today. (It’s been 9 days since they showed all the signs of being ready to harvest, so they should be cured.)

Overlooking the Easiest Way to Determine when to Harvest 

Only today did it occur to me to look back on the package (or in the catalog) and find the days to maturity for each of my varieties. The information for the ones I’ll harvest today (Early Butternut from Pinetree) shows 82 days to maturity. The other signs of maturity are right in sync with that information. Now I feel good about going ahead with this first harvest.

I’ve read that these Early maturing butternuts don’t keep as well. Mine won’t be around long enough to concern myself with that.

The two squash on the still-green vines are not mature. Those plants were planted 19 days after the others. By September 1 they should be ready for harvesting.

All except two will be harvested today.

All except two will be harvested today. Note the brown stem of the large butternut at the bottom. The stems that attach the two large ones to the still-green stems at the top of the picture are not ready to be harvested.  The two small light colored squash (one on the right and one on the left) are not hard, but they won’t grow anymore since their vines are withering. I’m looking forward to having them for dinner tomorrow.

My Burpee’s Butterbush Butternut matures at 75 days. Since it wasn’t planted in the garden until June 18th, it still has a way to go.

ssssss

This one still has a long ways to go.

Other Things to Keep in Mind When You Harvest

  • Cut your squash from the vine rather than pull it. It keeps better that way.
  • Leave a two inch stem if you can. The stem is another protection against early rot.
  • If you’re expecting a frost, harvest your squash the day before. A heavy frost will damage your squash and they’ll be more likely to rot.
  • If you want to kill all bacteria on the squash, you can dip them in a 10:1 water to bleach solution and air dry them. (I don’t do this.) Then store in a cool place.
  • When harvesting squash that are not mature use them quickly. They won’t be quite as sweet as mature squash, but they’re still delicious. They just won’t store well.

Final Thoughts

I like to consider everything before I make the decision about when to harvest my butternut. But I still think the basic criteria for harvesting this delicious winter squash is summed up in what my friend said some years back.

They’re ready to harvest when they turn a peanut color and the stem is tan (brown) and cracking. When mature, the outside of the squash will resist the light pressure of your fingernail.

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Related Posts:

Butternut Squash after 33 Years
Butternut Squash – Comparing Notes

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9 comments to Butternut Squash – When to Harvest

  • Sandra

    Yum, nothing better than butternut squash roasted in the oven. I hope my mystery volunteer winter squash turn out to be good. Butternut is definitely my favorite.

  • Don Rutherford

    Theressa

    I grew Butternut a couple of years ago and had several plants. They all didn’t come on the vine at the same time, I had various stages of squash growing, some big some small.

    If you look in the grocery stores, you can see what sells and most people are buying.

    I picked and cooked a few as the summer wore on, but did not harvest all of them until late Fall. Some were humongous. They pretty much all tasted the same, big or small, and all kept until eaten or given away months later.

    Bottom line for me, like all squash, it is a matter of taste and how you will use them.

    I love zucchini large, one squash will feed an Army. The little 6 inchers take about four to stir fry.

    You can quarter zucchini lengthwise and then cut the pointed edge off (seeds) if they are too mushy for you. I love to cut them in 1/4 inch slices and cook them on the grill with olive oil.

    Like all garden food, it is simply a matter of taste. Some people like tomatoes fried green, others pick them when they just start to turn red and put them on a window sill a couple of days. Others pick them light red. I love mine ripe, dark red and the worst sin of all, chilled for an hour before eating.

    Bottom line, simply experiment and enjoy how you like it, not what a lawyer/writer tells you. Period

  • Tee Jay

    Any thoughts on caring and harvesting Trombone squash?

  • Lita Sollisch

    Good Morning!

    I’ve just picked another Brandywine tomato that is beautiful on the outside. I was preparing the tomato for a bacon/tomato sandwich, with mayonnaise, of course. The tomato was delicious except for the whitish hard spots on the top and center of the fruit. This symptom appears in most of the tomatoes every year. Any ideas as to why this happens?

  • Susan Klein

    Hi Theresa,
    Thank you for this post. Just the info I needed! I have a question for you. By mistake one of my helpers picked a Pennsylvania crookneck squash that was not ripe. My helper thought it was a summer squash. I was wondering if you think I should cut it now and try to use it, or let it sit and see if it ripens. Thoughts? Thank you for your help.
    Susan

  • Virginia

    How timely! I have 6 butternut squash plants in my garden. To save space I had them climb up and down, over and around some A-frame lattice-ey things I got at Lowe’s. (Sort of like lattice sandwich signs) They have been VERY prolific and I’m now contemplating when to harvest. The vines are still looking green and vigorous, in spite of the war I’ve been waging against the squash (stink) bugs! The recent slight cooling in our area (Central Valley, California) has seemed to revive these plants and I’ve got new fruit cropping up here and there right along with the older, mature, tan-colored ones. So… I guess I’ll cool my jets until I see the stems fully browned and cracking. The ones that seem close to ready have been teasing/taunting me for days. Am looking forward to a fun fall harvest.

    Thanks for your newsletter/blog. I do enjoy reading every one of your posts.

  • Toni Brock

    Great post Theresa. I grew Butternut a couple years ago and tried this recipe. I thought it was marvelous and decided to post for you.

    2 Tbl spoons oil
    1 C slivered onion
    3/4 C thinly sliced Celery
    3 C mushrooms halved
    4 C cubed, peeled butternut squash (potato peeler removes skin)
    1 clove garluc , pressed
    2 C water
    2 Tbl spoon tomato paste
    3/4 tsp. Dried rosemary, crumbled
    1/2 tsp coarse salt
    1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
    2 15 oz cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained
    2 tomatoes diced
    Chopped fresh parsley

    Hear oil in dutch oven over medium hi heat. Add onion, celery, and mushrooms. Cook until vegetables start to brown, about 8 minutes.
    Stir in squash, tomatoes, garlic, water, tomato paste, rosemary, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 25 min. Uncover, stir in beans and simmer until stew consistency, about 10 min. Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 8

    I pressure canned this recipe for quick meals after long work days.

  • Theresa

    Sandra, your mystery volunteer sounds like fun.

    Don, thanks for joining in. My line of thought was when to harvest for best winter storage. You brought up a good point. If someone wants to eat before then, they can harvest at any time.

    Tee Jay, I’ve grown Trombone squash and have harvested them at all stages. The young ones are a bit sweeter and the taste changed when they got big on the vine. Try picking at all stages and just decide what you like the best.

    Lita
    ,
    I get those hard white spots on a percentage of my tomatoes as well. I don’t consider it a problem. For the most part it’s a ripening disorder that weather conditions cause. It can be intensified by a lack of certain nutrients in the soil. If it bothers you a lot, you may want to do a soil test. Might help to review my post http://tendingmygarden.com/soil-test-the-pros-and-cons/ first.

    Susan,
    I’ve never grown Pennsylvania crookneck before, but I think they perform basically like butternut. And I’ve never had a butternut continue to ripen once picked. If you want to experiment, you could leave it and see if it ripens. If you see any sign of decay – then use it immediately.

    Ginny, good to hear from you! It’s been a while!
    I know what you mean about the fruit teasing and taunting you. I’ve got a large cantaloupe that’s doing that to me!
    Good luck with those butternuts!

    Toni, that recipe looks interesting. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

    Theresa

  • Theresa

    After thinking about Don’s post, I thought you might want to review this post http://tendingmygarden.com/tomatoes-are-they-more-delicious-when-vine-ripened/
    Theresa

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