Harvesting, Curing and Storing SquashGrowing Vegetables Last Updated On 03/15/2022
Here are some tips for harvesting, handling, curing and storing squash so you can use them properly.
It's best not to harvest squash until the vines die down or the stems are too dry or dead to be able to transfer nutrients to the plant. Another good time to harvest squash is the first sign of frost, because these plants can't tolerate it. Generally speaking, harvest whichever of these things happen first.
When harvesting, make sure not the break the fruit off at the stem. If you do, the moist, juicy stem scar will be very vulnerable to mold. This shortens the plants' storage life. This is why it's important to break or cut the stem in between the fruit and vine so there is a stub or stem on the fruit left.
Some squash varieties will snap off easily but most need to be cut. It's usually easy to do it using garden shears. Some people leave about 1 to 2 inches long stub of stem but just to make sure, it's best to leave a bit more. Leaving about 3 to 5 inches is the best way to go. Once you cut it, you can trim it to the final length of 1 to 2 inches after the fruits have been indoors, drying for a few days.
Remember: most squash varieties can't handle to be lifted by the stem. This will only make the fruit break off. Some varieties do have sturdy enough attachments so you can handle them on the stem but to be on the safe side, don't attempt it unless you are sure the plant can handle it.
There will always be some fruits whose stems got knocked off in the field. This is not alarming on itself, but you should collect these plants and eat them first.
Whatever you do, don't forget to handle the squash gently. Place them instead of dropping and tossing them.
Squash is often left outside in the field for the outdoor curing period. You should leave your squash on the field after you have harvested it. Curing is needed for squash to dry and toughen the skin in the sun. Expose the plants to the sun for about 5 to 7 days. Cover them during evening if you expect frost.
However, this depends on your location. If you get many rainy days or frosty nights, you can't cure squash outdoors. In this case, you should harvest the plants and bring them inside straight away. You can perform curing indoors by exposing squash to 80-90 degree F (27-32 degree C) with ventilation for 3 to 5 days.
If you need to bring your squash inside but you can't ensure those temperatures, you can perform curing by simply leaving your squash in storage to dry for some time. Make sure to turn them every few days so that the other part of the plant touches the floor and all the parts of the plant have a chance to dry out.
After you have cured your squash, be it indoors or outdoors, you can safely store it. The best temperature for storing these plants is about 50-55 degrees F, with a relative humidity of about 50-70 percent.
It's important to store your squash for some time before you eat it. The amount of time you need to wait will depend on the variety. For example, C. pepo varieties have to sit for about 2 weeks before being eaten while C. maxima varieties need to sit at least a month. "Sweet Meat" should be stored for about 2 months before it's ready to be eaten.
Remember, it is not dangerous to eat squash earlier but they won't be as sweet as they should be and they won't have as much flavor or complexity to the flavor, or as much aroma. If your squash tastes more starchy than sweet, it's typically due to bad curing. It means the squash was eaten before it was ready. If a squash is not starchy but has thinner flesh, less flavor or sweetness, it means it was probably picked immature or was poorly grown in the first place.
Photo credit: John Cudworth