Saturday, October 10, 2015

Harvesting and keeping winter squash

Butternut squash

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It is winter squash harvest time!  
Winter squash are ready to harvest after the vine completely dies in the fall.  Be sure to harvest your fruits before it gets too cold.  A frost or two is the max cold to leave them out in.  Definitely don't let them  sit through a freeze.

Squash originated in Mexico.  There are cave drawings from 8000 to 6500 BC depicting squash. Squash was grown extensively by Native Americans as part of the “Three Sisters”-squash, corn and beans.

Winter squash are those that take until late fall to ripen and can be stored inside for months.  They include butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, Hubbards, turbans and pumpkins.  Each vine does not produce many fruits.  We typically get 3 butternut squash off our vines, which is a decent yield.

Spaghetti and acorn squash
Winter squash is left on the vine until the vine dies and the fruit loses its sheen.
You should be able to poke the squash with your fingernail and it should just dent it, not puncture the skin.  Be sure to leave 2-4” of stem attached when you harvest.  Place in a warm, sunny place to allow the skin to toughen.  Then, store in a cool, dark location until ready to eat.

There are some amazingly diverse and cool winter squashes/pumpkins, from the bumpy and blue hubbards, to traditional pear shaped butternut to the exotic "turban" squash, so named because of the hat it appears to be wearing............  

Depending on the variety of winter squash, it can store well for months.   Butternut and spaghetti squash are long lasting common winter squash.   I have eaten butternut squash into June the following year! 
Acorn squash sitting in the window sill to toughen the skin
If you decide you want to grow winter squash next year, here are some tips.

Since it originated in a temperate zone, winter squash requires a long growing season.  It is best to start them indoors in the spring. Squash love organic matter and warm temperatures.  If you throw a few seeds in your compost pile, you will be rewarded with exuberant vines.
Plant when nighttime temps are 55F or warmer.  Add a fertilizer rich in phosphorous a week after transplanting, when flowers first appear and again when fruits begin to form.  They love water, too.  If growing in a pot, keep well watered and don’t let dry out.
Don’t panic when the first blooms fall off without producing any fruits.  There are male and female flowers.  If yours falls off, it was likely a poor guy that withered without the love a gal.  There can also be some false starts with malformed fruits.  Don’t worry, the plant will put on more blooms.

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