How to pick butternut squash?

Harvesting Butternut Squash

When it comes to harvesting butternut squash, the best way to tell if the squash are ready to be picked is by their appearance. If you pick them to early, the texture will be too firm and the sugars will not be developed. If you wait too long to harvest, the squash will be too mushy.

When butternut squash first appear on the vine, they will have green vertical lines on them. As the squash matures, the lines begin to fade and the rind turns to a pale orange or brown color, depending on the variety.

Most butternut squash matures when it is 8-12 inches long. However, the length can vary depending on the growing conditions and variety. Nutrient rich soil will produce larger squash. Watch the squash carefully every day or so and monitor their lengths. When the squash stop growing, they are almost ready to be picked.

Another good way to tell if it’s time for harvesting butternut squash is the appearance of the stem. When the squash is mature, the stem end will turn from green to brown. It will appear that the stem is beginning to dry out. When this happens, the plant slowly stops transferring nutrients into the squash. This is an indication that your butternut squash is ready to be picked.

Finally, test the toughness of the rinds with your fingernail. If they resist being punctured, the squash are ready to be picked.

To harvest butternut squash, use shears to cut the squash from the vine, leaving about an inch of stem attached. Wipe the dirt off the squash with a damp cloth. The squash can then be stored for up to 2-3 months in a cool, dark place such as a basement, crawl space or root cellar. They will also last for up to 14 days at room temperature on a kitchen table or counter.

You can also peel the squash, dice them and boil them until soft. The pieces can then be pureed or mashed and frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Or, you can use the squash to make a soup, which can also be frozen for later use.

After the growing season is over, you can pull the plants from the ground and add them to your compost pile.

Now that you know about harvesting butternut squash, it’s time for a few of our favorite recipes….

Lindsey Shults/Demand Media

Ripe butternut squash is known for its creamy, sweet, and nutty taste that’s perfect for puréeing and roasting. Unripened squash, on the other hand, is bland, hard, and not useful for much. As with most fruits and veggies for sale at the grocery store, though, we can’t just whip out a knife and cutting board to crack open the food and check its level of ripeness.
Since the butternut squash has a hard, protective shell, it makes determining the quality of the flesh inside tricky. This means that we have to go by these three senses: feel, sight, and touch. Here’s exactly how to utilize them so you can gauge whether your squash will be delicious or a dud.

Look at the squash

Visual clues can tell you a lot about the ripeness of a particular butternut squash. It should be beige all over, the darker the shade, the better. It should have no green patches. The skin should be mat, not shiny, and free of cuts and blemishes.

Feel the squash

The weight of a squash can also give indications about its ripeness. It should feel heavy for its size. If you have many squash to choose from, look for the least ripe, greenest one and pick it up. Compare the weight of the squash you’re considering to the weight of the less ripe squash.

Tap it

Finally, try gently tapping the squash with your knuckles. You’ll hear a hollow sound if it’s ripe.

Never hesitate at the grocery store again with these tried-and-true methods. By utilizing them, you’re pretty much guaranteeing yourself a perfectly ripe squash, every time. We’ll take those odds.

Picking Winter Squash – How And When To Harvest Butternut Squash

You’ve watered and weeded and fought off the dreaded vine borer. Over the summer your few small plants have grown and grown and grown and you’ve ended the season with a dozen or more of the tan skinned, edible gourds. As delicious as they are, you can’t eat them all at once! So, you’ve got these questions about how to harvest butternut squash, when to harvest butternut squash and what do I do after harvesting butternut squash?

Butternut squash, a type of winter squash, is a flavorful source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. At 80 calories per cup, this naturally sweet treat is a dieter’s delight. It’s also a great source of iron, niacin, potassium and beta carotene, which is converted in the body to Vitamin A (necessary to healthy vision, skin and bones). It’s great to know that without canning or freezing, you can store your butternut squash harvest for use through the winter and spring.

When to Harvest Butternut Squash

It’s time for picking butternut squash when the rind is hard and they have turned a deep, solid tan. It’s best to leave the majority of your crop on the vine until late September or October to ensure the thick skins necessary for winter storage, but make sure you have your butternut squash harvest in before the first frost.

How to Harvest Butternut Squash

When picking butternut squash, carefully cut the fruit from the vine with a sharp knife. Make sure about 2 inches of stem is still attached to the squash. Short stems or no stems at all invite bacteria in through the temporary soft spot where the stem once was.

Fruits that have been bruised, cut or have their stem removed should be eaten as soon as possible because they won’t store well. Fruit that has been severely damaged during your butternut squash harvest should be consigned to the compost heap, where you might find seedlings sprouting next year!

Now that you know when to harvest butternut squash and how to harvest butternut squash, you need to know how to store them. After you finish picking butternut squash, it needs to be cured. All that means is that you have to let the squash sit at room temperature for a week or two to fully harden the skin. They’ll need a temperature of about 70 F. (20 C.), but please don’t leave them outdoors where they’ll be vulnerable to insects.

Once cured, the fruit should be stored in a cool dry place (40-50 F./4-10 C.) such as a basement or garage. Don’t let them freeze. Properly stored, your butternut squash harvest should last from three to six months.

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.

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.

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.”

Butternut Squash after 33 Years
Butternut Squash – Comparing Notes

Harvesting winter squash

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Some crops, like leaf lettuce, are quick to go from seed to harvest. Others, like winter squash need a full season to mature. But they’re worth the wait! When I begin harvesting winter squash, everyone loves to help. It’s fun to see the rainbow of colors, shapes, and sizes of the many varieties we grow.

Depending on the type of winter squash you plant, you can expect anywhere from one to ten fruits per plant. Small-fruited types like Sweet Dumpling yield up to ten fruits per vine, while large-fruited Blue Hubbard often produces just one to two fruits per plant.

Small space or urban gardeners often shy away from growing winter squash which has a well-earned reputation for being a space hog in the garden. That said, there are some outstanding bush-type squash that can be grown in the smallest of spaces or in containers like fabric bags and still yield a respectable harvest. I’ve had great success with bush varieties like Butterscotch PMR. For more information on the incredible diversity of winter squash, be sure to check out the excellent book, The Compleat Squash by Amy Goldman.

Don’t be in a rush when harvesting winter squash. Harvest at the right time, handle with care, cure the fruits, and store them properly. When you follow these simple steps, you’ll be enjoying your homegrown winter squash until spring.

Don’t be shy about growing new-to-you winter squash varieties. There are dozens of awesome choices available in seed catalogs.

When to harvest winter squash

Immature squash don’t store well and will be susceptible to rot. When harvesting winter squash, look for these five signs that the time is right:

  1. The ‘days to maturity’ listed on the seed packet has passed.
  2. It’s been at least 50 to 55 days since fruit set.
  3. The rind has turned the mature color. For a winter squash like butternut, that means the rind has turned from the light green of summer to a burnished golden-tan. Not sure of the mature color? Check the seed catalog or website.
  4. The rind is hard and the fruit sounds hollow when gently tapped.
  5. Before the first frost. Don’t wait until the plants have been killed by a frost. Frost damages the fruits as well as the plants and will reduce storage quality.

Invariably, there are always a few fruits on the vines in late summer that are not yet mature. To speed up their growth, I trim the growing tips of the vines back to the closest stem a few weeks before the first expected frost. But even if you didn’t trim the vines back, you can still eat immature winter squash. Just be aware that they may not be as sweet as a fully mature, cured squash and they won’t last in storage. Put them in the kitchen where they can be used as soon as possible.

Harvest winter squash when the fruits are mature. If any fruits are still immature when a frost threatens, harvest and use soon.

It may come as a surprise, but the first step to successful storage starts with harvesting winter squash the right way. Careful harvesting can mean the difference between fruits that last for a month and those that last for a year. And after spending a summer tending the vines, you don’t want to damage the fruits when it’s finally time to harvest.

Here are four tips to keep in mind when harvesting winter squash:

  1. Cut the fruits from the vines with a pair of pruners or a sharp knife. Don’t try to pull or twist the fruits from the vines. Trust me.
  2. Leave at least two to three inches of stem on each squash.
  3. Don’t rush it – handle each squash carefully to avoid bruising or damaging the fruits. Never hold or carry a squash by its stem.
  4. If you do accidentally damage the fruit or break off the stem, use that squash soon. Don’t place it in storage as it will be more prone to rot.

Before you harvest winter squash be sure the mature color has developed – usually about 55 days after fruit set.

How to cure winter squash

Your just-harvested winter squash may look ready to eat, but to achieve peak flavor and sweetness, most types need to be cured first. Butternut squash, for example, reaches optimum flavor after one to two months of storage. But small-fruited types like Delicata, Acorn, and Spaghetti are fine to eat right away.

Curing is a simple process and not only deepens the flavor, but also thickens up the skins prolonging storage life. Properly cured winters squash can be stored for three to six months, with some types maintaining quality for up to a year.

To cure, leave harvested fruits in a sunny part of the garden for seven to ten days. The exception to this is if frost is in the forecast. In that case, bring the squash to a greenhouse, polytunnel, or indoors to a warm, dry space. Once cured, it’s time to store the fruits.

Red Kuri Japanese squash are a delicious variety with small fruits and super-sweet flesh. Allow all types of winter squash to cure for 7 to 10 days before storing to thicken up the skins.

How to store winter squash

For the longest life, store winter squash in a cool room or root cellar where the temperature falls between 50 and 60 F (10 to 15 C). Ideal humidity is 50 to 70%. I keep mine in my cool basement, but I do know some gardeners who store their winter squash in a closet with good results. As long as they are properly cured, even temperatures of 68 F (20 C) are fine for storage.

Don’t pile them up in a basket or box. Store squash in a single layer and check them every few weeks, removing any that show signs of rot.

Are you going to be harvesting winter squash this autumn? If you need more inspiration on how to cook winter squash, this handy bulletin, Cooking with Winter Squash and Pumpkins is packed with ideas!

For more information on both winter and summer squash, be sure to check out these articles:

  • Zucchini problems and how to overcome them
  • Pollinating squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins
  • Prevent squash vine borers organically
  • Recipe idea – stuffed squash









When and how to harvest winter squash

Winter squash varieties are a staple in many gardens, thanks to their prolific fruiting, their ease of growth, and the long shelf life of the fruits.

Whether you grow acorn, butternut, delicata, Turk’s cap or any one of the other dozens of types of winter squash, the most important part of enjoying the harvest is knowing exactly when and how to pluck the fruits from the vines.

By mid-summer, your winter squash plants should be starting to develop young fruits. The male flowers will open first to ensure there is plenty of pollen around when the female flowers open a week or so later. Female flowers have a mini squash at the base of the flower, while male flowers have a straight flower stalk.

From the time they are pollinated, it typically takes many weeks for winter squash fruits to ripen. But how do you know the best time to pick a winter squash? If you pick it too early, the flesh isn’t fully developed and may be bland. If you wait too long, the fruits could rot on the vine and they may become mealy.

Here are some tips to help you determine when to harvest your winter squash.

• First and foremost, check the seed packet for the “days to maturity.” This is the number of days typically required for the plant to go from a planted seed to production. I usually wait about 10 days beyond that number to start checking the fruits for signs of readiness. Unlike some other garden crops, waiting a little longer to harvest winter squash is better than picking it too early.

• Next, examine the fruits. Their rind should be fully colored and difficult to pierce with your thumbnail. For acorn squash, a golden yellow or orange spot will develop on the bottom side when ready to harvest.

• Tap the fruits. If they sound hollow, they’re ready to pick. Winter squash will not continue to ripen once the fruits are snipped from the vine, so timing your harvest properly is key. However, do your best to pick all the squash before the first hard frost. While they’ll tolerate a few light frosts, heavy frosts will potentially damage the fruits and affect their shelf life. If the end of the season is growing close and you’re worried that the fruits won’t ripen in time, cut off the growing end off of each of the vines. This signals the plants that no more growth is needed and forces them to ripen the existing fruits a little faster.

• To harvest winter squash, cut the fruits from the vines with a pair of pruners. Do not pull them off or you could damage the fruits and promote rot. Leave a short nub of the stem intact.

• Once all of your winter squash have been harvested, it’s time to cure them. This process thickens the skin and enables them to last longer. After harvesting, line the fruits up on table in the garage or another dry room. Let them sit there for about 10 days to two weeks. Then, the fruits can be stored between 55 and 65 degrees humidity for several months.

  • Horticulturist Jessica Walliser is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

    Categories: Lifestyles | Home Garden | Jessica Walliser Columns

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