If I had to choose a favourite vegetable or fruit to grow it would be winter squash and pumpkins. Perhaps it’s because they make me think of fairy tales, perhaps it’s the huge vines and gorgeous varieties of heirlooms available. Perhaps it’s the taste and smell of a spiced pumpkin pie or mashed squash but I absolutely love them!
Having grown them for a few years now, and having made a few mistakes myself, I wanted to share with you how and when to harvest your pumpkins and squash, how to handle, cure and store them for yummy fall and winter meals. I’ll also be sharing a huge list of recipes this week too!
Colour is not always an indication that your pumpkin or squash is ready to harvest. Here’s a few things you need to look for:
- The squash vines will begin to dry and stop growing and the rinds of the squash or pumpkins will harden.
- You want to make sure they’ve developed a firm skin that protects the squash for winter storage and eating. You can gently stick your nail in the skin and there should be no resistance. If your nail pierces through the skin and leaves a dent they’re not ready yet.
- Most varieties will change colour and the colour of the skin and stem deepens the more mature they get.
How you pick and handle winter squash directly affects how well they store. Here are some harvesting tips:
- Harvest on a dry day as squash and pumpkins need to be kept dry.
- Select blemish-free fruit for curing and use the bruised or damaged fruit right away as they won’t store well.
- Be careful harvesting the squash as the large vines have tiny prickles. Be sure to wear long sleeves, boots and long pants so you don’t get scratched up. Remove any vines around the squash you plan to harvest from so they don’t get scratch and damage the skin while lifting from the ground.
- Use pruners or a sharp knife to cut the squash or pumpkin from the stem (don’t pull!). Make sure you leave 3-inches of stem otherwise the squash won’t store well. If this happens by accident use those squash first otherwise they’ll begin to rot.
- Harvest before the first frost as it shortens shelf life. If frost is forecasted harvest the ones that are the most ripe and bring inside. If they’re still too young and the weather forecast looks good for another week or so you can try to cover the plants with blankets or straw but the plants tend to be large and it’s hard to do.