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.
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.
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.
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.
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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