Is there a more versatile plant than the squash? There’s a world of opportunity in your kitchen, from soups to pies, salads, and even sauces with butternut squash.
But you will need to harvest at the right time if you want to enjoy it to the max – regardless of how you want to use it.
So, when to harvest butternut squash?
The short answer: when it has the right color, toughness, and size.
The long answer? It truly depends on many factors.
Luckily for you, we have enough time to show you every one of these factors below. Take a look!
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When is Butternut Squash Ready to Harvest? 8 Signs to Consider
The butternut squash tends to get ripe and ready for harvest within a few months. But you may not notice in some cases, as the signs can be slightly challenging to catch.
Here are some of them:
1. Particular Rind Color
The most obvious sign is the color of the squash. A butternut squash turns into an orangey to brownish color coming from the green as it grows towards pale yellow when it starts to mature. Orange to peanut color is the final form – meaning it is ripe.
You may also notice stripes in the maturing period. Full ripeness gets rid of these marks and delivers a more matte surface.
Many people recommend letting the butternut squash turn beige, somewhat dark. That’s a sign it is overripened, which some prefer.
GENERAL RULE: You should look for a dark orangey or beige tone in the skin. Anything with too many marks or green portions is a squash that needs further ripening.
2. Super-Hard Peel
You will also notice how the skin turns as tough as it can be alongside the unique hue. This shell is naturally designed to protect the fruit’s interior, turning into an almost impenetrable cover.
Touching the peel and softly squishing will let you know whether it’s ready or not. If your fingers dent into the squash, it still needs some time to mature. But if you can’t squeeze the rind at all, then you can say it is fully mature.
TO KNOW: Another clear sign is when the peel feels thoroughly dry and hard to peel. The dry texture is impossible to dismiss.
3. Sound It Makes
A rigid shell comes with another sign: it sounds hollow.
Butternut squashes are soft and squishy as they grow. This produces a different sound when you tap into the fruit as if there was something inside.
But when the squash matures, its interior turns harder and makes a hollow sound instead. Tapping and hearing pure air is another clear sign when you need to harvest.
TO THINK ABOUT: You can also check for hollowness by placing the squash into a bucket of water. If the squash stays at the bottom, it is probably ripe and ready to be picked. But if it floats, then it is not.
Also Read: How to Plant, Grow and Harvest Thyme?
4. Dying Vines
Vines will show clear signs of color loss. Even though the vine won’t die completely when the butternut squash reaches maximum maturity, you will notice how they stop being so vibrant.
This happens for two reasons:
For one, butternut squashes suck away most nutrients, leaving nothing for the vines to keep growing and looking neat.
And two, the squashes are too large, causing the vines to break and wither as the squashes are too heavy to carry.
BOTTOM LINE: If you see the squashes taking the plant down and the foliage seems to not be growing anymore, that’s a sign you need to harvest.
5. Shriveled Stems
The stem doesn’t refer to the vine itself but the part that connects with the squash. This portion of the plant transfers nutrients to the squash as it grows. Suffice to say, it tends to wear out when the squash needs no more nutrients.
This shrivels and dries the stem. You will notice how it goes from a vibrant green tone as the butternut squash to a brownish and dry hue. That’s another sign the stem is not doing its job, and the butternut squash should be harvested.
Of course, there are many ways a stem can turn brown (like mold or scorching sun rays). That’s why you should also check how tough it feels. Limbs that are still sturdily hooked to the squash may be still be sending nutrients. But mature ones will come off pretty quickly (as the connection is not that important).
TO CONSIDER: These stems may break if you leave the butternut squash to mature further. However, we don’t often recommend this as over mature squash can become inedible.
6. Huge and Heavy
Butternut squashes can be up to 3 pounds and reach over 12 inches long. Butternut squashes show clear signs of maturity at the right size and weight. Of course, this will depend on many other factors, such as environment, soil, and variety of squash.
You will know it is ripe because the unripe butternut squashes feel a lot lighter, as if they were hollow. Because ripe squashes have more moisture inside, they tend to feel a lot heavier, not to say their size is essential.
CHECK THIS: Is the butternut squash pulling down a significant portion of the vine? If yes, that’s a sign of a ripe or soon-to-be-ripe squash.
7. Growth Rate
Squashes tend to mature at about 80-120 days or 2.5-4 months after you’ve planted them. You can check your squashes at this time to see whether they’re ready.
Once again, the growth rate depends on other factors, such as variety (more on that below), environment, soil quality, and sunlight. The best conditions will grow your squashes faster and ripe them sooner, while bad ones will require slightly longer periods.
We recommend counting every day from the moment you plant to the moment you intend to harvest. If you can count 80 days and check for some of the factors above, that will get you to the perfect moment to pick the squash.
BY THE WAY: You’ll know it is wholly mature, but the butternut squash doesn’t grow anymore. If you see 5 days pass and the butternut squash look the same – it’s time to get it off the vine.
8. Consider the Variety
Last but not least, you can save a lot of time by knowing at what size and color the squash are ready. More importantly, at what time does the variety typically ripens completely.
Here are the main butternut squash varieties with all this info:
- Argonaut Hybrid
Inarguably the largest butternut varieties, with a single specimen growing to over 15 inches long and weighing over 20 pounds each.
The squash matures at about 140 days from the seeding. You will know it is ready for harvest because it will feature a deep orange color with the typical squash shape.
- Autumn Glow
A small variety with squashes that generally reach 8 inches long. You can get them to about 5 pounds if you’re lucky.
This variety grows super-quickly, though, taking no more than 80-90 days to fully mature. You will know because the skin turns golden, almost glowing.
- Burpee’s Butterbush
The butternut squash variety that grows the quickest: the Burpee needs no more than 75-85 days to fully mature. These squashes, however, are super-tiny – growing no more than 6 to 8 inches.
They will weigh about 2 pounds and will feature a deep-orange rind. Also, they tend to be a bit soft.
- Butter Boy Hybrid
It is one of the easiest varieties to grow, making it also one of the most popular. The squash grows in about 80 days or a bit sooner.
A single squash doesn’t weigh more than 3 pounds and barely reaches 8 inches long. The skin is bright orange.
- Waltham Butternut
The Waltham grows the tiniest vines, so many people consider it a go-to option for their gardens. You’ll know the squashes are ready because they achieve a pale yellow with an orangey tone.
Most squashes from this variety reach 3-4 pounds and grow no more than 10 inches long. They mature in as little as 85 days.
How to Harvest Butternut Squash?
Because the plant pretty much gets rid of its fruits automatically, you won’t have to do much. However, you may still need some help to avoid mistakes.
Here are some tips to consider:
- Harvest only when the squash shows CLEAR signs of maturity – even the slightest sign of a green squash may affect how it tastes later.
- Cut the stem that holds the squash with sharp pruners. Avoid pulling from the plant as you may cause damage.
- Leave about an inch or two of stem hanging from the squash. That is, don’t cut flush, so you don’t expose the butternut’s interior.
- Handle the squash gently, even if it feels super-tough. Squashes may also get damaged if they get hit or are exposed to adverse conditions when you pick them.
- Keep the squash away from sharp things (including any pruners or clippers you may have) but also other objects that may cause damage. Squashes tend to go rotten pretty fast.
Follow these tips, and you’ll have your butternut squashes ready to consume in no time. But first, why don’t we try to cure them?
How to Cure Butternut Squash?
Curing squashes is all about letting them get EVEN RIPER. That is, helping the squash ripe further but not on the vine.
This is often helpful when the first frost in the fall is getting close, but you think the squash needs more ripening to be ready. As you may guess, letting the squash stay for a few more days will make it even juicier. Sadly, frosts are not ideal for squashes.
These fruits shouldn’t be exposed to frosts as they may turn your squash into a mushy fruit. Even worse, it may cause rotting, which is something you obviously don’t want. Should the squash be as tough and pristine as possible – right?
That’s when CURING enters into work…
Curing is about letting the squash ripe further, healing from cuts, scratches, and other damage from difficult conditions. In the process, it turns into a juicier and more flavorful fruit. When it’s time to consume – YOU’LL LOVE IT.
Here’s how to make that happen:
- Take the squashes to a relatively warm place at no less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit (below 85 degrees).
- This place should preferably be humid and dark. An alternative could be directly under the sunlight but protected from rain (like a greenhouse).
- Leave the squash in this condition for at least 5 more days up to 10 days. It will harden its skin.
At the end of the curing process, you’ll notice the squash looks a lot more ripe and ready to be consumed.
Still, it’s worth considering three things you may notice after the curing:
- Squashes rot earlier this way. They ripe further, which makes them more likely to reach rotting state quicker too (you’ll have to consume them within a week or two)
- Squashes don’t taste better. While they’ll be “fully ripe” this way, they don’t improve when it comes to taste (may actually have less flavor)
- Squashes don’t always come back better. If you take an almost fully ripened squash into curing, you will notice it doesn’t really get better (it may actually rot/get damaged in the process)
To avoid all these things, we recommend only curing unripe butternut squashes. If you’re taking ripe ones for further ripening, do so knowing the probable consequences.
Where to Store Butternut Squash?
Learning how to store the squashes will help you whether you’re harvesting the butternut squash for immediate consumption (days) or for later (weeks). This also applies after curing the squashes.
Either way, follow these pieces of advice to store your butternut squashes perfectly:
- The place where you store the squashes should be cool and dry but also well-ventilated.
- Temperatures shouldn’t be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit but no less than 45 degrees either.
- Keep the squashes away from other fruits (especially quick-to-rot ones like apples and bananas)
- Don’t leave the squashes at the mercy of insects, pets, or other animals that may bite into them.
- Avoid the refrigerator as the gasses and contact with other foods. The extra moisture may damage the squashes.
Be aware doing the steps above may keep the squash ready for consumption for over 3 months (up to 6 months in some cases).
If you aren’t looking to store it, be aware your butternut squashes may also last a bit over 14 days at room temperature in your kitchen table, for example.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
You can cut a butternut squash any way you want. But it’s often recommended to do it ONLY after removing the peel first.
The skin of the squash tends to be sturdy enough to make it hard to cut. If you want to avoid issues as you’re cutting, peel the skin off first. This should take a bit more time but will save you some effort afterward.
Yes. That’s a considerable advantage of curing the butternut squash. The fruit changes color and everything. It may even become juicier in the process, making it easier to consume.
But you can still leave the squash to ripen directly under sunlight or on a tabletop. A few days in humid and warm conditions will suffice for that.
Yes. You can put it in the freezer as soon as you cut it. This should keep it in pristine condition for a few weeks until you consume it. In fact, you can freeze butternut squash EVEN AFTER COOKED. Isn’t that amazing?
Just remember that once taken out of the freezer, your butternut squash will start to decay right away. Consuming it ASAP will be essential in that case.
Harvest your Butternut Squash Like A Pro!
You could be the newest gardener or the most experienced one – you’ll find our advice above super-helpful either way.
As long as you know when to harvest butternut squash and how to do it properly, you should have little to no problem with the process. IT’S EASY AS PIE!
So, what are you waiting for? Go and check your butternut squash – it may be time to harvest…