JoAnne Skelly: Harvesting and storing winter squash

I’m frequently asked, “How do I know if my winter squash (including pumpkins) are ready for harvesting?” Winter squash are harvested in the fall to store through the winter months. Pumpkin, acorn, butternut, spaghetti, buttercup and blue Hubbard are all winter squash.

There are other more unusual squash with names such as carnival, heart of gold (not our Fallon cantaloupes), sweet dumpling, autumn cup and Long Island cheese squash.

Immature winter squash do not store well. When mature, winter squash have hard skins that you can’t puncture with a thumbnail. Their surface will appear dull and dry, but they will have turned a deep solid color. Pumpkins should be uniformly orange, unless they are a white variety, of course. Dead vines due to early freezes, diseases or insects don’t necessarily mean mature fruit. Be sure to harvest pumpkins and other winter squash before nighttime temperatures drop below 40 degrees or before a frost or freeze so you don’t lose your crop.

Try not to cut or bruise the fruit when harvesting to avoid causing storage rot. Leave a 3- to 4-inch stem on a pumpkin when harvesting, but leave only a 1-inch stem on other winter squashes. Don’t pick the fruit up by the stem. This can damage the top of the squash and allow rot to develop. A 10-day curing period at approximately 80 degrees will improve storage longevity. Don’t wash the fruit.

Store your harvested fruit in a single layer at 50 to 55 degrees. This will help avoid storage rot from occurring. You can place them on old carpeting, foam rubber or straw to allow air circulation. With good air circulation and proper humidity, acorn squash can be stored five to eight weeks, butternuts and pumpkins two to three months, and Hubbards three to six months. Don’t store these fruits with apples. The gases given off by the ripening apples will make the squash unfit for long-term storage.

On Sept. 11, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cooperative Extension’s Grow Your Own series will present “Preparing Your Soil.” This class is free, but an RSVP is requested to 887-2252. It will be held at 2621 Northgate Suite 12, Carson City. The Sept. 16 class will be “Selecting the Right Plants for Your Landscape: and the Sept. 18 class is “Keeping Your Lawn Green and Healthy.” Time, location and RSVP are the same as the Sept. 9 class.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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