It may seem way too early to start thinking about anything to do with winter, but when it comes to your garden, the end of summer marks the beginning of winter activities, from planning for your winter garden to harvesting your winter squash. Like their summertime cousin, zucchini, winter squash plants can be prolific. To make the most of your winter squash harvest, you’ll need to store the squash properly. Proper storage can ensure your squash lasts two to three months – and sometimes even longer – so your end of summer/early fall harvest could end up on your Thanksgiving or Christmas table!
How to Harvest Winter Squash
- First, let’s clarify what counts as winter squash. My favorite, and the one I’ll be working with this year, is butternut. Other common winter squash varieties include acorn, buttercup, hubbard, and spaghetti squash.
- Squash to be stored must fully mature on the vine – but should be harvested before the first hard frost. Wait until the squash has no green left on the skin. If you can make a dent in the skin with a thumbnail, it’s not ready yet.
- Once your squash is ready to harvest, wait for a dry day, then cut the stem at least three inches from the top of the squash. Do not carry the squash by the stem, as it may break off, creating a potential entry point for rot.
- Finally, be careful when transporting your squash from garden to kitchen. Knocking them together in a basket or wheelbarrow can cause bruising that creates another opportunity for rot.
How to Store Winter Squash
Before you put your squash away for storage, you need to cure it*. Curing allows the skin of the squash to firm up even further and for the cut stem to form a hard seal. Simply brush off any dirt (don’t wash or get the squash wet), then place the squash in a warm, sunny window (or sunny spot outside if there is no chance of rain).
After about two weeks, move the squash to a cool room – about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) – for long-term storage. Ensure all sides of the squash are exposed to good airflow by storing on slatted shelves or by placing layers of dry straw around and between layers of squash in a box or basket.
Some believe a chlorine wash before curing prevents spoilage and prolongs the squash’s storage life. If you’d like to try it, wipe the squash’s skin in a mild bleach solution, about 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
*Note: Don’t cure acorn squash. It should go straight into cool storage.
How to Freeze Winter Squash
Sometimes, you may have so much squash that even the long shelf life might not be enough to get through it all. If you’re worried you won’t be able to eat all of your squash before it starts to rot, you can always freeze it to keep you going right through into spring.
You can freeze winter squash as either cubes or puree, depending on how you’re most likely to use it. Puree can be used in breads, soups, and so on, but cubes are better for risotto, stir-fries, salads, and pastas.
- Squash puree: Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast face down on a baking sheet until the flesh is soft. Scoop out the flesh, puree in a blender, and store in freezer bags or containers.
- Squash cubes: Peel the squash and remove the seeds and pulp. Cut into half-inch cubes and roast until slightly soft. Allow to cool completely, then store in a freezer bag or container.
The Bottom Line
Winter squash is one of the summer garden’s most long-lasting rewards. Invest the time to store your squash properly to get the most out of your harvest!
Photo Credits: Christina Newberry