Did you know that winter squash is one of the easiest vegetables to store over the winter months? Follow the directions I give you in this tutorial, and you’ll be serving home-grown squash to your family until spring! Here’s how to harvest, harden and store winter squash for long-term storage.
The Difference Between Summer and Winter Squash
The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of squash: summer and winter varieties. Each serves their own purpose in the garden and kitchen.
Summer squashes are delicate, thin-skinned and ripen during the summer months. These squash varieties are delicious when sauteed or grilled, but they don’t keep long in storage.
Winter squash has a thick, tough skin or shell and ripens in late-autumn. If you want a storage squash, you need to specifically grow winter squash varieties.
List of Summer Squash Varieties
Summer squashes are usually grown for harvest throughout the summer season. Varieties include the following:
- Green Zucchini
- Pattypan Squash
- Straightneck Squash
- Yellow Crookneck
- Yellow Zucchini
Winter Squash Varieties That Store Well
While all winter squash varieties will keep for (at least) several months, those with the thickest, toughest skins make the best winter storage squashes.
Let me give you a list of long-lasting winter squash varieties.
- Buttercup squash varieties (Red Curi (see pic) & Sweet Mama are excellent keepers)
- Cushaw squash varieties
- Hubbard squash varieties
- Pumpkins (Jack of All Trades & Queensland Blue keep longest)
- Kabocha squash
- Waltham Butternut Squash
How to Harvest, Harden and Store Winter Squash
Winter squash (and pumpkins) should be left on the vine for as long as possible, so they ripen naturally and grow sweeter in flavor.
That being said, garden seasons vary in length and it isn’t always possible to harvest fully ripe pumpkins or squash. So let me show you when to harvest winter squash or pumpkins for cold storage.
Watch the Tutorial!
When to Harvest Winter Squash and Pumpkins
As with many things in the gardening world, you’ll find conflicting ideas about “the best time” to harvest your squash and pumpkins.
Some gardeners swear that if you harvest before the first frost, your squash/pumpkins will last longer in storage. And others say it really doesn’t matter, as long as you lift them before a heavy freeze happens.
Personally, I usually wait until just after my first frost. When my squash leaves turn black and wilt, I (usually) lift my winter squash and pumpkins. But if we have an early frost that is then followed by a mild fall season, I’ll often leave them attached to the vine for longer.
Because once you remove winter squash/pumpkins from the vine, the clock begins to tick. Once harvested, breakdown is inevitable.
How to Harvest Winter Squash and Pumpkins
It’s not difficult to harvest winter squash or pumpkins! There are just a few things you need to know.
- Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut pumpkins/squash free of vine.
- Always leave 2-4 inches of stem attached to the fruit.
- Pile squash into a wheelbarrow or wagon so they’re easier to transport.
If a stem breaks away at the base of your squash/pumpkin, it won’t last long in storage. The area your stem detached from will be susceptible to mold and bacteria. Use these fruits up in 1-2 month’s time.
How to Harden or Cure Winter Squash
After you’ve harvest your winter squash and pumpkins with the stem attached, they should be moved into a mildly warm location (60-70F or 16-21C), where the fruit’s skin can heal any cuts or scratches received during harvest.
Note: at this time, some gardeners also wipe down their squash/pumpkins with a moist cloth or even a vinegar-water solution to remove dirt and “disinfect” the skins. I don’t usually do this, but it is an option if your harvest is very, very dirty!
Give your harvest about 10 days to cure and then, it’s time to put your squash and pumpkins into cold storage!
Best Way to Store Winter Squash and Pumpkins
Winter squash and pumpkins keep best in a cool, dry location. If you are going for long-term storage, avoid places that have high levels of moisture, because moisture will cause your harvest to decay much faster.
To store winter squash and pumpkins, just follow the steps below!
- Gently dust your fruit if there are still patches of dry soil clinging to the shell.
- Find a shelf or out-of-the-way place that is anywhere from 40-60F (4-16C) in temperature.
- Put down a layer of brown paper or a paper grain sack.
- Spread the harvest out in an single layer, leaving space between each squash/pumpkin.
- Use in the next 4-6 months.
Putting down a layer of paper makes it easier to tell if a squash or pumpkin has gone bad. Juices of the decaying flesh will spread further, making it easier to spot (and deal with).
If you are going for long-term storage, be sure to leaving space between each pumpkin and squash on the shelf. Touching fruits are often the first to rot. But by giving each one it’s own “bubble,” they’ll last longer.
How to Store Winter Squash in Cold Storage
Of all the vegetables you could grow and preserve to feed your family over winter, winter squash is perhaps the easiest. The harvest is usually plentiful. And it’s not difficult to store for several month’s at a time.
Yes, even if you don’t have perfect storage conditions! Just do the best you can, with what you have. Squash is very forgiving and I hope you’ll give it a try this fall!