Sunday, August 30, 2009

When to Harvest and How to Cure Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Spaghetti squash stems shrivel and dry when ripe.

Some pumpkin stems turn very dark green when ripe. Others shrivel and turn light brown.
Cure in the sun for 10 days to harden skin and extend shelf life.

Is it Time to Harvest my Pumpkins and Winter Squash?
Although we've grown a few pumpkins in the past, this is the first year we had the room to experiment with winter squash and expand our pumpkins patch. They have been really fun to watch grow but I wasn't sure when to harvest them. After all, they are called "winter" squash and I always thought they should be pulled out of the ground right before winter sets in. Well, that may be true in Vermont but here in California, some of these vegetables are ready to harvest, especially if you planted them early in the spring.

I pulled out "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith to get some expert advice. According to Smith, the two indicators that tell you winter squash are ripe are: (1) the stems begin to shrivel and dry and (2) the skin is so hard that you can't cut it with your thumbnail (although he warns that pumpkin skin may remain a bit soft even when ripe). The stems of my spaghetti squash definitely shriveled and became light brown. The stems of our pumpkins and some of the other squash however, turned a dark green. The stems of my friend's pumpkins, which were larger and of a different type, shriveled and became light brown, similar to our spaghetti squash. I also looked at the seed packets to see how many days until maturation to make sure I had left them in the ground long enough.

Harvesting and Curing
When harvesting, leave a good bit of the stem on the squash and pumpkins, at least an inch. Smith warns not to carry them by the stems or they may break off. He didn't have to warn me. The stems are full of spines and it hurts to carry them that way.

Just like we did with garlic, we need to cure the pumpkins and winter squash if we want to extend their shelf life. But unlike the garlic which we kept in a ventilated shed out of the sun, you want to put the pumpkins and the winter squash in the sun for 10 days.

I'm definitely not going to store all of them so you'll be seeing some pumpkin recipes real soon! Good luck with your harvest.

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