How to pick squash?

Winter Squash

Winter squash is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most of the country. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. When ripened to this stage, fruits of most varieties can be stored for use throughout the winter.

Recommended Varieties

The following varieties of squash are adapted to a wide variety of conditions. They are vining types unless otherwise indicated. Vining squash plants require considerable growing space and are best suited for large gardens. The bush and semi-vining types can be grown in smaller gardens. Occasionally, some of these varieties may be listed as pumpkins by certain seed companies. The distinction between squash and pumpkins is mainly in what you choose to call them. Here, open-pollinated varieties are identified as OP.

Acorn (C. Pepo)—80 to 100 days to harvest.

Cream of the Crop (hybrid – All America Selection winner; uniform white acorn type; creamy smooth, tasty flesh)

Ebony (early; glossy dark green; flaky flesh texture)

Swan White (OP-creamy white skin; pale yellow flesh; smooth, delicate, sweet flesh)

Table Ace (hybrid-semi-bush; uniform, near black fruit; excellent, low-fiber flesh)

Table Gold (OP-compact bush habit, attractive bright golden yellow, may also be harvested as summer squash when light yellow)

Table King (OP-compact bush; dark green, color holds well)

Table Queen (OP-standard dark green acorn type)

Tay-Belle (OP-semi-bush, dark green)

Delicata (C. Pepo)

Delicata (also known as sweet potato squash; long cylindrical shape; cream color with dark green stripes)

Honey Boat (shaped like Delicata, tan background with dark green stripes, very sweet flesh)

Sugar Loaf (tan background, dark green stripes, elongated oval, very sweet)

Sweet Dumpling (flattened round, fluted; light cream to white background, with dark green stripes)

Spaghetti (C. Pepo)

Orangetti (hybrid-semi-bush plant, orange version of spaghetti, high in carotene)

Pasta (yellowish cream fruit, improved flavor)

Stripetti (hybrid of Spaghetti and Delicata, great taste, stores better)

Tivoli (hybrid-bush habit; All America Selection winner; light yellow, uniform fruit, 3 to 4 pounds)

Vegetable Spaghetti (OP-good keeper; light yellow, oblong fruit)

Butternut (C. Mopschata)

Butterbush (bush habit; early, 1 to 2 pound fruit)

Early Butternut (hybrid-All America Selection winner, early, medium size, high yield)

Ponca (extra early, small seed cavity, stores well)

Puritan (OP-uniform, blocky, smooth, slightly smaller than Waltham)

Supreme (hybrid-thick neck; early, uniform, sweet)

Ultra (largest fruit 6 to 10 pounds; good leaf canopy)

Waltham (OP-uniform, thick-necked, 10 to 12 inch fruits)

Zenith (hybrid; smooth, attractive fruit; high yield)

True Winter Squash (C. Maxima)

All Season (bush; orange skin, flesh; 8 or more small fruit per plant)

Banana (pink, blue or gray; long, slim, pointed at the ends; 10 to 30 pounds)

Buttercup (dark green fruit with distinct gray cap at blossom end; the standard for fine-grained, sweet flesh; 3 to 4 pounds)

Delicious (5 to 12 pounds; large, top-shaped, green or gold fruit, smoother than Hubbard)

Emerald Bush Buttercup (bush habit)

Honey Delight (hybrid 3 to 4 pounds; buttonless buttercup type; excellent flesh quality)

Gold Nuggett (5 inch, flattened round; 1 to 2 pounds; orange skin, flesh; bush habit)

Baby, Blue, Chicago, Golden, Green and Warted Hubbard (large teardrop shape, pointed at ends; warted skin; 8 to 25 pounds)

Mooregold (bright orange skin, flesh; excellent keeper with tough rind; buttercup type; 2 to 3 pounds)

Sweet Mama (hybrid-All America Selection winner; semi-vining, buttercup type; uniform; tasty; 2 to 3 pounds)

Sweet Meat (OP-old time favorite; flattened; slate gray skin; 10 to 15 pounds)

Red Kuri (OP-bright red- orange; teardrop-shaped; smooth-textured flesh; 3 to 5 pounds)

For giant varieties, see pumpkin.

When to Plant

Squash is a tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost is past and soil is thoroughly warmed.

Spacing & Depth

The vining types of squash require at least 50 to 100 square feet per hill. Plant seeds one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill). Allow 5 to 6 feet between hills. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants. Allow 7 to 12 feet between rows.

Plant semi-vining varieties one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill) and thin to the best two plants per hill. Allow 8 feet between rows.

Plant bush varieties one inch deep (1 or 2 seeds per foot of row) and thin to a single plant every three feet. Allow five feet between rows.


Squash plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Squash requires minimal care after the vines cover the ground.

Bees are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins and are killed by insecticides. If insecticides are used, they should be applied in late afternoon or early evening after the bees stop visiting blossoms for the day.


Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. Harvest the main part of the crop in September or October, before heavy frosts hit your area. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving two inches of stem attached if possible. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling. Fruits that are not fully mature, have been injured, have had their stems knocked off, or have been subjected to heavy frost do not keep and should be used as soon as possible or be composted (watch for seedlings in the compost).

Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. For prolonged storage, do not pile squash more than two fruits deep. It is preferable, where space allows, to place the fruits in a single layer so that they do not touch each other. This arrangement minimizes the potential spread of rots.

Common Problems

Cucumber beetlesattack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. They can be controlled with a suggested insecticide applied weekly either as a spray or dust. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles in early September because these beetles can damage the mature fruits.

For more information on cucumber beetles, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Squash bugsattack vines as the fruit begin to set and increase in numbers through the late summer, when they can be quite damaging to maturing fruit. They hatch and travel in groups, which seem to travel in herds until they reach maturity. Using the proper insecticide when the numbers of this pest are still small minimizes damage.

For more information on squash bugs, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. Can squash varieties cross-pollinate with one another or with pumpkins in the garden?

A. Yes. Any variety of squash or pumpkin in the same species can cross-pollinate. Cross-pollination does not affect the current crop, but the seed does not come true the following year.

Q. Does squash make as good a pie as pumpkin?

A. Yes. Most people cannot tell whether pumpkin or squash is used in a pie. This finding is not surprising given the whimsical application of the names pumpkin and squash. Many cooks prefer winter squash to pumpkin because they make a non-fibrous pie, much more akin to the C. moschata processing pumpkins commonly bought canned. (C. moschata is closely related to butternut squash.)

Q. I have vine borers in my squash. Can I control them with insecticides?

A. No. Vine borers cannot be controlled effectively with insecticides. You can reduce potential damage the following season by disposing of infested plants. Vining types of squash can be encouraged to root at the nodes, giving the plant some ability to withstand attacks of vine borers. Some success in control of an active infestation may be achieved by carefully splitting open areas being fed upon and removing the larvae.

Q. Is Turk’s Turban an edible squash?

A. Yes, but it has relatively poor flesh quality and is more often grown for its ornamental value than for cooking.

Selection & Storage

The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) includes pumpkins, summer squash and winter squash. They are really edible gourds. There are many varieties with a wide range of flavors and textures. Winter squash does not look the same either. Their tough outer shells can be smooth or bumpy, thin or thick and rock hard with a wide array of colors.

The most popular winter squash includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicata, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Terk’s Turban. There are many more, but this section will be limited to the above-mentioned varieties.

Winter squash is planted in the spring, grows all summer and is always harvested at the mature stage in early autumn before the first frost. Immature winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, which will cause early decay.

For storage, harvest sturdy, heavy squashes with fairly glossy skin that is unblemished by soft spots, cuts, breaks or uncharacteristic discoloration. Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days.

After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50 degrees), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Careful, do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures simply mean shorter storage time.

The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. Fiber, which was once called roughage, absorbs water and becomes bulky in the stomach. It works throughout the intestinal track, cleaning and moving waste quickly out of the body. Research suggests that this soluble fiber plays an important role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer.

Winter squash is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene. The orange-fleshed squash is also an excellent source of beta carotene. As a general rule, the deeper the orange color, the higher the beta carotene content. Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A being essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and maintenance as well as many other functions.

The nutrient content of winter squash varies, depending on the variety. The following information is a summary of all varieties, cooked, baked and cubed.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, cubes)

Calories 79.95
Protein 1.82 grams
Carbohydrate 17.94 grams
Dietary Fiber 5.74 grams
Calcium 28.7 mg
Iron 0.67 mg
Potassium 895.85 mg
Folate 57.40 mcg
Vitamin A 7,291.85

Preparation & Serving

Peeling winter squash can be a challenge to the novice. The thin-skinned varieties (acorn, butternut, delicata and sweet dumpling) can be peeled with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.

Most recipes using these varieties call for cutting the squash in half. Position the squash on a cutting board, stem end facing you. Place the blade of a heavy chef’s knife horizontally along the length of the squash. With a hammer or mallet, repeatedly hit the back of the blade near the handle to drive it into the squash until it breaks in half.

Place the larger varieties (Hubbard and Turk’s Turban) on newspaper and use a sharp cleaver to split the hard-rind open. Or use the chef’s knife method described above. Once you have a slit cut, bang on a hard surface and pull apart. Pieces are easier to peel. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard, or set aside if you plan to roast the seeds. For instructions on roasting seeds, visit our website Pumpkins and More and substitute squash seeds in the recipe.

To cook winter squash, place unpeeled pieces cut sides down on a shallow baking dish and bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or longer. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or skewer. When tender, remove from the oven and allow the pieces to cool. Spoon out the soft flesh and mash with a fork or process in a blender or food processor. Peeled pieces can be cut into cubes and boiled until tender. Use with any recipe calling for cooked mashed or pureed squash. Or microwave the squash pieces on high for 15 minutes or longer.

Small acorn squash and spaghetti squash can be pierced in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer and baked whole. Piercing prevents the shell from bursting during cooking. Place the squash on a baking dish and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 325°F. Test for doneness by squeezing the shell. When it gives a bit with pressure, it is done.

Home Preservation

Store whole winter squash in an area where temperatures range from 45 to 50°F for three to six months. At room temperature reduce storage time to one and a half to three months depending on variety. See the selection and storage information above.

Cooked squash freezes well. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch head space and freeze for up to one year. Canning is not recommended unless the squash is cut into cubes.

Mashed squash is too dense and heat penetration is uneven. Because spaghetti squash does not stay cubed on heating, it should be frozen instead of canned. For all other varieties, follow the procedure and processing times outlined in canning pumpkin.


Herbs and spices used to enhance the flavor of winter squash include garlic, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, basil, parsley and a pinch of ground cloves. Sweeten squash pulp with maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or orange juice concentrate.

Squash Bread

Equally delicious for breakfast, snack or as a light dessert, this honey sweetened loaf can be spread with low-fat cream cheese or whipped butter. To warm: Wrap thick slices in a paper towel and microwave for 15 to 20 seconds on high.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1 1/4 cup pureed cooked winter squash*

  1. On a plate, sift together first six ingredients. Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, mix oil, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in egg and egg white. Add squash puree and beat until smooth.
  4. Fold in dry ingredients. Turn into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  5. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about one hour. Remove from the oven, let stand in pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack or cake plate to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Squash Bread with Nut Topping

2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

After Step 4, pour melted butter over the top and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake as directed above. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.

Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan Cheese

One 4 to 5 pound spaghetti squash
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or parsley
Additional parmesan cheese for passing

  1. Pierce squash in several places with a long-tined fork or metal skewer. Place on baking pan and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using potholders, squeeze squash to test for doneness. It is ready when it gives slightly under pressure. Remove and cool.

  2. Heat a saucepan over heat, pour in olive oil. Add garlic and cook until tender but not browned for about 5 minutes.
  3. When squash is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and stringy portions. Using a fork, pull pulp from the shell in long strands and add them to the warm garlic oil.
  4. Toss squash strands gently with pepper, salt and cheese. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with basil or parsley. Serve immediately. Pass additional cheese at the table. Serves 6.


Strains of cooked spaghetti squash can be tossed with your favorite marinara sauce, mushroom sauce or pesto. The empty shell halves are nice to use as a serving bowl.

Harvesting Squash, When and How to Harvest

The rule for harvesting squash is pick summer squash and zucchini early and often, while they’re small, but leave winter squash on the vine till the vines die back in fall.

Harvest summer squash early and often.
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Harvest summer squash while small, before their skins harden and their cores get pithy and full of seeds. Zucchini should be harvested at 6-8″ (15-20cm), pattypans at 2-3″ (5-8cm) across. In warm weather and with adequate water, summer squash and zucchini double in size in a day or two, so ‘when in doubt, cut it out’.

Young summer squash, harvested fresh, are succulent and delicious, and will stay that way for at least a week, if you wash them, dry them quickly, and place them in a plastic bag with a half strip of paper towel, then store them in your vegetable crisper.

The paper absorbs moisture that would otherwise condense inside the bag, causing soft rots or mold where it’s in contact with the plastic.

Squash Harvesting Photos © Steve Masley (Click IMAGE to Enlarge)

Top of Harvesting Squash Page | Summer Squash Varieties
Winter Squash Varieties | Growing Squash
Growing Squash in Containers | Roasted Winter Squash

You can harvest winter squash any time after they’ve reached mature size, but they’ll develop more sweetness if left on the vines till the leaves start dying back in the fall.

Harvest buttercup or kabocha squash after they achieve their characteristic blocky shape.

Harvesting Buttercup (Kabocha) Winter Squash:
The Squash on the Right is Ready to Harvest,
the Squash on the Left is Still Growing
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

The skin color should fade from a bright green to a duller, greenish-brown shade, and the stems will become corky. The stripes will fade from light green to grey-green, and become narrower.

Buttercup or kabocha squash with green stems, rounded contours, light green skin, and wide, light green stripes are still growing and should be left on the vine to size up.

In the photo above, the squash on the right is ready to harvest, but the squash on the left is still growing.

Harvesting Squash: The Green Stripes and
Green Stem on this Butternut Winter Squash
Mean this Squash is Still Growing
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Harvest butternut squash when the skin is too hard to dent with a fingernail. The skin should be a uniform tan color, although there may be some faint green stripes. The stems will turn from green to greenish-yellow or brown and become hard and brittle.

When you’re harvesting squash like these, cut the squash from the vines with a pair of hand pruners, leaving an inch or so of stem. Lay them out on the ground in a sunny spot and allow them to cure in the sun for a few days.

Rotate them every couple days, and watch for signs of sunscald on really hot days. After a week or so of curing, store the squash in cool, dry shade.

Winter squash become sweeter after a hard frost or two, but harvest them and cure them under cover if temperatures drop into the high 20’s (-5 C).

Acorn squash keep for 2-3 months after harvest. If they start turning yellow, use them immediately, because they lose sweetness and flavor rapidly at this stage.

Winter squash should be stored cool, dry, and dark, with good air circulation around them. Most winter squash become sweeter after a couple months of storage, and can be kept for up to 6 months if stored properly. Buttercup squash store for 4-6 months. Butternut squash store for up to 9 months. Both are at their best at 2-4 months in storage.

Top of Harvesting Squash Page | Summer Squash Varieties
Winter Squash Varieties | Growing Squash
Growing Squash in Containers | Roasted Winter Squash

The recipe below features buttercup or kabocha squash, but works for any type of winter squash, including pumpkins. The secret to getting a beautiful carmellized rim is to use only a small amount of water in the dish, so the squash roasts for the last half hour, instead of steaming.

Roasted Buttercup (Kabocha) Squash

1 buttercup or other winter squash

Melted butter, grapeseed, or vegetable oil


small amount of water

Roasting Buttercup Squash
© Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Roasted Buttercup (Kabocha) Squash
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Preheat oven to 375° (190° C). With a heavy-bladed chef’s knife, cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous membranes. Sprinkle salt into a 9” x 13” (23 x 33cm) glass or steel roasting pan. Rub the cut side of the squash generously with melted butter or oil, and place cut side down into the dish. Add 1/8” (2mm) water to the pan. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

A mild, nutty tasting vegetable, sometimes resembling fresh corn, yellow squash is a summer squash, a subset of squashes harvested when immature, while the rind is tender. Unlike winter squashes, which grow in a rambling fashion, yellow squash is a bushy plant. Also unlike winter squashes, which are harvested after their skin has thickened and can therefore be stored for months, yellow squash must be eaten within a week after picking.

There are three types of yellow squash: scallop or patty pan, crookneck and straightneck. All three varieties are easy to grow, even during Central Texas’ relentless summers, and only a few healthy plants produce abundant yields. Yellow squash can be sown from mid-March through April for an early summer harvest and from late-July through August for a fall harvest. Below are tips for how to grow this tasty vegetable.

1) Work plenty of compost or well-rotted manure into your beds.

2) Plant seeds one inch deep and space them according to seed packet instructions (usually 24 to 36 inches apart with three seeds in each hole). Water deeply. Seeds will sprout in six to 12 days.

3) Water daily until plants have formed their first true leaves. Thin plants as they grow so each has two square-feet of space.

4) Water deeply once or twice a week or whenever the soil is dry four inches down. A steady water supply is necessary for good fruit. Squash leaves are prone to powdery mildew, so water the soil and not the leaves. To prevent the soil from drying out, mulch with leaves, pine needles or soft wood mulch. It is normal for plants to wilt midday. Once the sun sets, they perk back up.

5) Harvest when squash are small and tender. Pick elongated varieties when they are six to eight inches long. Harvest scallop types when they are three to four inches in diameter. Do not allow summer squash to become large and hard because they sap strength from the plant that could be used to produce more young fruit. Pick oversized squash and compost them. Because summer squash develop rapidly after pollination, you may need to harvest every day or other day.

A note on squash vine borers: If your squash plants suddenly wilt and you see holes in their stems, you likely have squash vine borers, a moth whose larvae feed off squash stems. To guard against this common pest, sow early in the summer, and don’t plant squash in the same beds for two consecutive years (borers overwinter in cocoons in the soil). Row covers help prevent moths from laying eggs. You can also plant fennel, dill and cilantro near your squash and let these plants flower. This will attract parasitic wasps, which feed off borers. If you catch borers VERY early, you can remove them. Slit the lower stem lengthwise with a sharp knife, remove the larva by hand, then cover the slit with moist soil to promote the formation of secondary roots.

Since the heat is ramping up, we’re sharing this salad, which can be eaten now with yellow squash available from your garden or at the SFC Farmers’ Markets, or save the recipe for your fall harvest.

Summer Squash and Avocado Salad


  • 6 small summer squash, cut into ¼ inch rounds
  • 2 bunches green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 avocado, cut into medium-sized pieces
  • 2 Anaheim Hatch or green chile peppers, roasted*, peeled and chopped or 1 (4-oz.) can chopped green chilies
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


Heat a large skillet on medium heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet.

Sauté the squash and green onions until squash is just tender.

Remove from heat and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

In a bowl, combine squash, green onions, and avocado.

Add chile peppers, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss lightly.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

*To roast fresh chiles or bell peppers, put them directly over a gas burner, on a grill or on a baking sheet on the top rack of an oven, and set the heat to broil. Turn the peppers once the skin is blackened and begins to blister, roasting all sides evenly. Put the roasted peppers in a sealed plastic bag or bowl with a lid for 10-15 minutes, then peel the skin off with your fingers (don’t rinse chiles in water).

Sustainable Food Center’s Fall gardening and cooking class schedule is now available!


Knowing when to harvest yellow squash can be tricky for the novice gardener. Let me explain when you should harvest your yellow squash!

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When to Harvest Yellow Squash

How do I know when my squash are ready to be picked? I’ve been asked this question before.

There is a little bit of variance between varieties, but not much. One of the biggest variations that you will notice is the straight neck and crooked neck. These traits don’t really affect the timing of when to harvest yellow squash though.

You’ll notice in my pictures that I grow straight necked squash. I haven’t really found a difference between the two varieties. They both grow exceptionally well and aren’t hard to take care of.

The reason that I grow straight necked squash is simply because I prefer how they look when I slice them up. I don’t like the way a crooked neck squash cuts up. I’m always left with a couple of weird chunks rather than some pretty slices from a crooked neck squash.

Not that it matters, it just bothers me.

Now, let’s talk about when to harvest yellow squash. You can look at the size of the squash and the color to determine when it is ready to pick.

How Long is It?

The longer the squash gets, the larger around it will get.

The longer the squash, the more the seeds inside will be developed. Squash seeds can get quite tough if they are allowed to fully mature.

Picking squash earlier prevents the seeds for toughening up inside of the squash.

Try to harvest your yellow squash when they are about six inches in length. You can also look at the plumpness of the squash and the color to figure out when to harvest your yellow squash.

Look at the Plumpness of the Blossom End

Usually the longer a squash gets, the bigger around it gets. Emphasis on the usually.

Yellow squash can become oddly shaped. Sometimes the plump end will get really big around, leaving the neck small. When this happens, it doesn’t usually get any longer.

There will be some difference in diameter between the blossom end of the squash and the neck of the squash. That’s normal and expected. If you see the end start to balloon out through, go ahead and pick it.

Back to the seeds…. A yellow squash that is really large and 2-3 inches in diameter will have tougher seeds inside.

If you want to avoid tough seeds, harvest your yellow squash when it’s 1- 1.5 inches in diameter. At this stage, the seeds are barely visible and soft. The seeds will mature rapidly and become tough quick.

Look at the Color

Yellow squash are yellow from the beginning.

Most yellow squash that are ready to be picked are a soft, light yellow. When the squash starts to turn dark yellow, it’s beginning to mature. Squash that have overly matured have an almost orange tint to the skin.

The dark yellow squash not only have tough seeds, but the skin will be tough as well.

Dark yellow squash will feel leathery and less smooth than lighter colored squash. They are still completely edible, but have the tougher skin and seeds.

Don’t worry if your squash have lines on them. The lines are marks left behind from either you picking it or the squash being rubbed against the plant. Squash plant stems are prickly and can easily scratch the delicate skin.

Save me for later!

Remove the Bad Ones

This is important if you want to keep your plants productive!

When you are harvesting your yellow squash, check for bad squash.

Bad yellow squash are easy to spot. Usually the blossom end starts to turn brown. You might also notice that the squash has become shriveled and squishy.

The blossom end of this squash had become soft and was starting to wrinkle. Notice that its almost white at the end.

If you don’t pick these off, your squash plant will keep trying to send nutrients to that squash to help it grow. Don’t let the plant waste valuable nutrients trying to grow a bad squash. Pull it off and chunk it or add it to the compost pile.

Allow the plant to send all of the nutrients to healthy squash. As soon as you notice a bad one, pull it off.

How to Pick Yellow Squash

Now that you know when to harvest yellow squash, what’s the best way to get it off of the plant?

I mentioned that squash plant stems are prickly. Sometimes the squash itself will have tiny hairs covering the surface that can feel prickly as well.

I find it easiest to grab the neck of the squash and slide my hand down the squash itself first. This knocks off any of the tiny hairs that might poke my hand when I grab it directly. (Not all yellow squash varieties have this issue, so check yours.)

After I’ve wiped the tiny hairs off, I can grab the squash. I hold and stems out of the way gently with my other hand.

I twist the yellow squash gently. Usually about two turns in one direction is enough to get the squash off. It is harder to get larger squash off. The stem holding them in place gets tougher as they age.

If you miss a large squash and have to pick it late, hold the stem with one hand and the squash with the other. Gently twist and pull back on the squash while holding the plant. Be careful not to pull the plant out of the ground.

When you get the yellow squash picked, check the blossom end. There may be remnants of a bloom on it. That can be removed easily.

Rinse the squash off and let it dry before storing it or using it.

Recap of When to Pick Yellow Squash

Remember to pick squash earlier than what you may think. You don’t want the squash to develop seeds that are tough or skin that is tough. Even intense cooking won’t soften hard seeds and leathery skins. Younger squash have softer skin and tender seeds.

Harvest yellow squash when the squash are light yellow. They should be about six inches in length and the plump end should be about 1-1.5 inches in diameter.

If you notice any bad squash, pull them off of the plant and dispose of them. If you have a compost pile, put them into it. Pulling off bad squash will help your plant produce more healthy squash.

You might also be interested in:

  • Improving Your Garden with Plasticulture
  • Growing Pumpkins
  • Planting Fall Vegetables
  • What Should I Do with Tomato Suckers?
  • Fall Garden Soil Preparation

How to Pick Squash at the Appropriate Time

Summer Squash Harvest

Summer squash is harvested in the summer when the fruit is young and tender. They grow quickly, sometimes doubling in size in a day or two. Ideally, they should be picked before the core becomes pithy and develop large seeds. Knowing some facts about each type of summer squash will result in a tastier squash.


Zucchini varieties are at their prime when they reach 6-8 inches, although there are some varieties that are still edible at a length of 1 foot. The zucchini should be dark in color and firm before harvesting. When picking zucchini, use a sharp knife or shears to cut it off the vine.

Yellow Squash

The many varieties of yellow squash quickly grow to the harvest size of 4-7 inches long. The round varieties are picked when they are 3-5 inches in diameter. Pick young fruit daily. Pulling squash off may damage the plant. Use a sharp knife or shears to take squash off the vine.

Pattypan Squash

Pattypan (scalloped) squash are summer squash that reaches maturity in 45-70 days. The fun-shaped squash can be eaten when the fruit is 2-4 inches in diameter. Check for ripe squash about every two days. Pattypan squash ready for harvest has an even color and a rind that can be easily scratched. Cut squash off with a sharp knife or shears.

Winter Squash Harvest

Winter squash is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. The many varieties of winter squash have a wide range of maturity days. Generally, when the squash reaches mature size, it can be harvested; however, waiting until the vines die back will produce a sweeter squash. Knowing each winter squash variety’s unique characteristics might yield a more bountiful harvest.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is usually mature in 110-120 days after planting. This sweet tasting squash is ripe when the outer rind turns a beige color and the skin cannot be punctured with a fingernail. Cut off the vine with a knife leaving 2 inches of stem on the squash. Cutting too close to the squash can allow bacteria to enter the squash.

Spaghetti Squash

Harvest of spaghetti squash is 90-100 days after planting. It is time to pick this squash when it turns a golden yellow or dark yellowish color. A ripe spaghetti squash has hard skin that a fingernail cannot penetrate. When cutting spaghetti squash off the vine, leave about 2 inches of vine on it to prevent bacteria from entering it.

Spaghetti squash growing season comes to a close in the fall or early winter. If a gardener has won the battle with the squash bugs and squash vine borer, their plants are still thriving with unripened fruit. Pick the unripened fruit before the first frost and attempt to ripen it indoors. Here are some tips that may possibly work:

  • Harvest all green, unripened spaghetti squash leaving 2 inches of vine.
  • Rinse all dirt off.
  • Dry squash thoroughly.
  • Place squash green side up in a sunny location.

Off the vine ripening only works for squash that was very near maturity. If your green spaghetti squash turns a yellowish color, you have succeeded with ripening it. Use the squash ripened indoors first because they have a tendency to rot quicker than those ripened on the vine.

Acorn Squash

Acorn squash remains green the entire time on the vine. Most varieties are ready for picking in 75-100 days from planting the seed. When ripe, the shiny green acorn squash will become a dull green plus have a deep orange spot where it touches the ground.

The final ripeness test is checking the toughness of the skin. The acorn squash is ready to be picked when the color is right and a fingernail cannot puncture the skin. To protect your ripened squash from bacterial growth, cut off the vine with a sharp knife or shears leaving about 2 inches of stem on the squash.

Kabocha Squash

Kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) matures in 85-95 days after planting the seeds. The outer skin of these sweet squash turns from a dark green to a grayish green with some orange spots when they are ready to be picked. Kabocha squash changes from somewhat round to a boxier shape at harvest time. The squash is not fully ripened for another 45 days after harvesting.

Will my squash ripen off the vine?

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Button squash or ‘patty pan squash’ are small fruit that look a bit like space ships with scalloped edges. They grow to between 7 and 10cm in diameter and although they are available in other colours, the most common are the pale green and the bright yellow ones. The flesh is pale white and the whole squash is eaten cooked, including the skin and seeds.


Choose a spot in the garden where there is lots of space and that gets at least 6 hours of sun every day. Prepare the garden bed by removing any weeds and digging some compost into the topsoil. Use a dibbler or big stick to make small holes about 60cm apart and gently place one seedling into each one, pushing the soil around the roots. Water the seedlings lightly.

Button squash are easy to grow in large containers such as barrels or tubs. Fill the containers with premium potting mix and water it lightly. Place two seedlings in each container and make sure there is room for the vines to spill over the edge. The vine will also grow over a trellis or fence if one is available.


Button squash like to have the soil kept moist so give them some water every day. If lots of compost was added when they were first planted, they may not need any fertiliser but if the leaves start to go a little yellow, feed them with liquid fertiliser or composted manure. If there’s not much space on the ground, build a strong trellis for the vine to grow over.


Summer squash such as these should be picked when under-ripe because those that are left on the vine too long become very tough. Start picking the fruit as soon as it is between 5 and 10cm in diameter and this will also encourage new squash to grow. Store them unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge.


Button squash is very easy to cook in the microwave by cutting each one in half and cooking on high for 2 minutes. They can also be baked or steamed whole and are delicious sliced in stir-fries. Very young squash with the flower still attached can be steamed and served with just a little butter. They look fantastic and taste great as well.

There are lots of recipes for button squash in the Smarty Plants Kitchen.


Button squashes are related to zucchini, pumpkins and melons and just like these they grow on a vine with large leaves which shade their fruit from the hot sun. The vine will trail across the ground or climb a trellis if one is available.

Planting squash seedling.

Baby squash with flowers.

Squash ready to harvest.


Botanical Name: Cucurbita pepo

Life Cycle: Annual

When to Grow: Spring, summer and autumn

Height/Width: The vine can spread to cover an area of around 60cm x 60cm and 40cm high.

Requirements: Plant in full sun and water every day.

Nutritional Benefits: Button squash are a great source of vitamin C.

When To Harvest Squash: Best Time To Pick Winter Or Summer Squash

Squash plants are popular with home gardeners, but questions can arise around when to harvest squash. Is the best time when to pick squash the same for all kinds of squash? Is the size of summer squash or winter squash a factor in when to pick? Read on to find out.

Summer squash includes any squash that has a thin, tender skin such as:

  • Zucchini
  • Yellow crookneck
  • Patty pan
  • Scallop
  • Yellow straightneck

The size of summer squash can become rather large, but you will enjoy them more if you pick them small. The best time when to harvest squash of these varieties is while they are still small. The size of summer squash when it is ready to be picked is around 6 inches long or wide, if it is the patty pan variety.

Beyond this size, summer squash begins to develop a think skin and becomes bitter. The flavor is not the best for cooking. Frequent harvesting will also encourage the plant to produce more fruit.

When to Pick Winter Squash

Winter squash includes any squash that you can store through the winter. Popular types are:

  • Butternut squash
  • Acorn squash
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Buttercup squash
  • Hubbard squash

Winter squash are used when they are fully mature. This means that the best time when to harvest squash of this variety is at the very end of the growing season, right around the time of first frost. If by chance your vine is damaged by pests or weather that forces you to harvest early, other indicators of a winter squash that is ready to pick is to tap on it gently. If it feels solid and sounds slightly hollow, than it is ready to be picked.

Kitchen Garden Seeds

Gardening Tips

Summer Squash Sowing Instructions
Planting Depth:1”
Row Spacing:4’-5’
Hill Spacing:2’-3’
Days to Germination: 4-10 days
Germination Temperature:65°-75°F
Direct-sow 3 to 5 seeds per hill when soil and weather are reliably warm, after the danger of frost has passed, thinning to the strongest single seedling. To start transplants, sow singly in pots 3 to 4 weeks before setting out. Provide ventilation, strong sunlight and even moisture. Gradually accustom to the outdoors, planting out after the danger of frost has past. Enrich soil with compost, organic fertilizer and/or well-rotted manure. Cover seedlings with cloches or other protection if it gets too cold. Water regularly and feed as needed with manure tea, kelp or fish emulsion. Harvest on the small side for the best flavor. Regular picking also encourages production. Leaves contain a skin irritant, so work carefully around the plants or wear long sleeves. (Powdery mildew on the leaves is normal in late summer, as temperatures cool and humidity rises. It won’t affect the squash.)
Our Pollinators are in Peril
Sex and Squash Blossoms
Melons, Pumpkins and Squash all have yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers, though those of Melons tend to be smaller. Large ones are prized for cooking by Mexican chefs, Italian chefs–and yours truly. The first to appear are usually male blossoms, and until the females appear, you can eat all you want of them. After that, leave a few of the guys for pollination purposes. You can recognize female blossoms by the little bump at the base that will become a Squash once the flower has been pollinated. Males just have a long stem–a perfect “handle” for dipping the flower in batter before deep frying.
Deer Resistant Seed Varieties
Cooking Tip: Simple Summer Squash
Slice the Squash very finely and put it in the top half of a steamer along with finely sliced Onions. Steam briefly until just tender but not mushy. Drain, then stir in chopped Parsley or another favorite fresh herb, along with salt and butter.
Savory, Sweet and Soulful Summer Squash

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