When (and How) to Harvest and Store Butternut SquashButternut squash are one of the most popular winter squash, and often the first one that gardeners try to grow. But since butternut squash takes a long time to ripen, it can be difficult to know exactly when they are ready to pick.
Harvest butternut squash after they have completely changed to their final cream color and the stem attached turns brown, which could take at least 95 days from transplanting. Remove butternut squash while leaving at least an inch of stem attached to prolong shelf life. After harvesting, cure for 7 to 10 days at 80-85°F (27-29°C) and then store in a cool place around 50-55°F (10-13°C) with 60-80% relative humidity.
From Seed to Harvest – How Long Will It Take?
Butternut squash, like most winter squash, takes a long time from sowing seeds to harvesting. Generally, you can expect to wait anywhere from 95 to 115 days from transplanting until harvest, and seeds take around 7 to 14 days to sprout, so you could be waiting for four months from planting until you pick your first butternut squash.
Gardeners who live in short growing seasons will have to plant butternut some time in spring or very early summer in order to guarantee a harvest before their first fall frost.
If you want butternuts sooner, you can try growing shorter season varieties. Many of the fastest growing winter squash are butternuts, such as Early Butternut (85-90 days) and Butterbush (75-85 days). You will still be waiting a long time, but an early variety could shave off a month from the typical days to maturity.
How to Tell When Your Butternut Squash Are Ready to Harvest
There are a few telltale signs that your butternut squash is ready to pick.
Always make sure your butternut squash has completely changed to its color when it’s ripe. It should change from pale green to the typical pale cream color. Check all around the squash to make sure there are no more green spots.
Another sign your butternut squash is fully ripe is to check the color of the stem sticking out of the squash. If the stem is still green, that means the plant is still sending energy and nutrients to the developing fruit (squash). Once the stem starts turning brown or dries up, that means the squash is fully developed and can be picked.
There is also the fingernail test. I haven’t tried it but many gardeners attest to it. Basically, you take your thumb and press your nail into the skin of the butternut squash. If it goes in easily, it’s not ready yet. If your nail is having a tough time getting through the skin, then it’s ready to pick.
Can I Harvest Unripe Butternut Squash?
I was curious about this, since I know other gourds and squash can be picked early, and it turns out yes, you can definitely harvest unripe butternut squash.
The caveat is that it won’t have the same taste or sweetness as ripe butternut squash and it won’t have a long shelf life. If you pick unripe, green butternuts, treat them more like a summer squash instead of a winter squash.
How to Harvest Butternut Squash
Once you know your butternuts are ready to pick, you simply need to cut them off at the stem, leaving an inch or so of stem attached to the squash. This will help your butternut squash keep longer in storage.
It’s really that simple to harvest butternut squash, but after harvesting, you should cure them to increase their shelf life and improve their flavor.
Curing Your Harvested Butternut Squash
After harvesting your butternut squash, it’s recommended to cure them before storing and eating them. Curing winter squash like butternuts is the process of drying out the surface of the skin, which will seal any cuts, toughen up the skin, and make your butternut squash last much longer in storage [PDF]. In this process, butternuts will lose some moisture, which will concentrate the flavors.
You do not have to cure butternut squash for very long; anywhere from 7 to 10 days should suffice. During this time, keep your butternut squash at a temperature of around 80-85°F (27-29°C). Some growers keep them outside for curing, but make sure they are safe from pests and stay dry.
Storing Butternut Squash
Butternut squash can last months in storage, possibly up to 6 months, although most will last around 4 months.
Butternut squash should be stored in a cool environment, around 50-55°F (10-13°C) and a relative humidity between 60-80%. An unheated garage, root cellar, or cool basement make good storage locations.
During this time, butternut squash will continue to improve in flavor. As they sit in storage, enzymes inside your butternuts will continue turning starches into sugars, and the slow, gradual water loss from the skin will concentrate those flavors even more.
In fact, if you are kind of disappointed eating your butternuts soon after harvesting, you will notice your butternuts taste significantly better after a few months in storage. Some say butternut squash tastes best starting after 2 months from harvesting.
Storing Butternut Squash in Hot Climates
If you live in the south and don’t have any place cool enough to store butternut squash long-term, I would recommend storing them in the coolest part of your home or garage for a month or so to develop the flavor, and then chop them up and freeze them or can them.