It’s the autumn, things have been coming into your garden since mid summer (or earlier).  But now as some plants exhaust themselves, they find themselves pulled up or chopped down.  Room must be made for either colder season plants or cover crops to help your garden winter over. (I like planting garlic, but more on that later.)  Does this mean that nothing else will come from your garden?  Are you doomed until spring rolls around again?  Will you have to survive on store purchased veggies?  Well not necessarily.  Depending on what you were planting a few months back you might have a whole new set up crops coming up for harvest now.  In particular it is just about time to harvest butternut squash.

Growing Butternut Squash

Harvesting Butternut SquashSo at this point it is a tad late to be planting your squash.  Well, as of this writing, hello future people who are looking to plant butternut squash!  This year I planted a couple packets of butternut squash seed in the beginning of August. (I think, next year I need to develop a more complete note taking plan, but that is a different story).  It was a touch before I started harvesting corn.  I simply made a little hole for the seeds and stuck one in then covered it over with soil.  They were watered when I would water the whole garden and for the most part they were left to be as they were.  For a while I was afraid that the watermelon plant would spread out and take over, but in the long run it did just fine.

Squash Bugs Strike Again

Harvesting Butternut SquashWhile they were growing I noticed a new problem.  We had had some problems with squash bugs attacking our summer squash and zucchini this year.  The way our lay out ended up, I planted pumpkins on one side of that patch and my butternut squash on the other.  I had thought that since we had one cycle of the bugs that I would be in the clear until next spring.  But I was wrong and began to find the bugs all over the pumpkin vines.  (I have yet to manage to grow anything more than a tiny pumpkin, the quest will continue).  Happily though I can’t say that I saw any on butternut squash plants.

But are they ready?

They grew and grew, flowers bloomed and my bees came to visit.  Soon I began to see little squashes were once their had been but flowers.  As such I was excited and looked forward the fall and the squash dishes to come.  I would continue to water them and monitor their growth.  They got bigger and started to turn the color of a finished squash.  Then I had a new question….just when is this ready to pick?

Harvesting Butternut Squash

As you watch your squash grow you’ll notice that they start as green.  As they grow you will find lighter streaks of color running through them.  As they get bigger you will find that those tan color streaks have began to develop more and are now coating a larger area of the squash.  Soon you’ll find that the squash is now tan and from standing appears to be ready to harvest.  But you’ll want to get a little closer.  If you examine your squash carefully you may see there are still green streaks running along the squash.  Those are your first indicator.  When you no longer see green streaks that is the squash’s first signal that it is ready.

Of course one signal is rarely good enough.  Next you’ll want to feel the skin of the squash.  Poke at it with a fingernail.  If  you can easily break the skin still, the little fella might need a bit more time on the vine to ripen.  If the skin is hard and tough this squash is about ready to leave the garden and come to the pantry.  Some folks will just pull it off the vine, others prefer to use clippers to cut the stem.  But before you slice, pull or do violence to your veggie, take a moment to think.

To eat now or later?

That nice hard skin does more than tell you that a squash is ready to be picked.  It can also help to preserve your garden’s bounty.  But it can’t do it alone.  You’ll want to leave a couple of inches of the stem attached to the plant if you’d like them to last you several months through the winter.  Now of course that length of stem won’t be growing the squash any more, so still wait until it is ripe, but it will help the squash stave off going bad for a while.  The stem helps block an entrance for bacteria.

Harvesting Butternut SquashOf course if you are in the garden looking for part of tonight’s dinner, there is no need to leave extra stem on.  Cut where ever you feel good about it and take that sucker insider and consider your options.  Also if you are doing a bulk harvest of squash put any that look bruised or don’t have a few inches of stem to be eaten first.  Take a good look and if any of your harvest looks very damaged, it’s best to send it off to the compost pile.  Be warned though, any seeds that make it into your compost pile have a good chance of growing you new plants come spring.

Set them up for long term storage

Once you have brought your squashes in with the appropriate length stems you’ll need to cure them.  Let them sit out in a protected area that remains around 70 degrees for about a week.  This process will toughen up the skin even more, essentially hardening the armor around your veggies to help them last through the winter.  This is best done indoors, as if you leave them outside the bugs will think you have provided a buffet for them.

Once hardened you’ll want to find a place to store them that stays between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (4-10 C).   Many people find that a basement room or a garage works rather nicely for this storage.  It is important that you don’t let them freeze and the freeze thaw cycle can damage your investment.  Properly stored some squashes can last up to six months.  You will of course want to check on your periodically to ensure that no ill has befallen them.  If they start to look like they are developing some wear and tear you’ll have to decide for yourself if it is best to eat them quicker or surrender them to the compost.

Now Let’s Eat!

Looking for a quick and easy way to take one of these beauties from raw to ready?  Simple. Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Next slice your squash down the middle so you have two equal sides.  Next you will want to scoop out the seeds and the goop around them.  (Save the seeds by washing off the goop, letting them dry for about a week on a paper towel out of direct sunlight then storing them with your seeds).   Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on your squash then put it down on a baking sheet.  Squash go in the oven until they are nice and tender.  Mine normally take about 40 minutes, but that depends a lot on size and how your oven heats, so checking after about 30 minutes would be a good idea.  When the are done to your liking pull them out, give them a moment to cool.  If you like feel free to add some salt or pepper and tuck in.