Master Gardener discusses harvesting winter squash

Chris Himmelwright
Adapted from the Kansas State Horticulture Newsletter
Winter squash varieties include acorn, butternut and spaghetti melons.

Summer squash such as zucchini and scallop are harvested while immature, but winter squash such as acorn, Hubbard and butternut are harvested later, in the mature stage, after the rind is tough and seeds have developed. We normally think September is the time that winter squash is harvested. Harvesting too early leads to fruit that shrivels and rots. 

There are two main characteristics that help tell us when winter squash is mature: color and rind toughness. Winter squash change color as they become mature. Butternut changes from light beige to deep tan. Acorn is a deep green color but has a ground spot that changes from yellow to orange when ripe. Gray or orange is the mature color for Hubbard. 

A hard, tough rind is another characteristic of mature winter squash. This is easily checked by trying to puncture the rind with your thumbnail or fingernail. If it easily penetrates the skin, the squash is not yet mature and will lose water through the skin — causing the fruit to dry and shrivel. Also, immature fruit will be of low quality. The stem should also be dry enough that excessive water doesn’t drip from the stem. 

Winter squash should be stored cool with elevated humidity. Ideal conditions would be 55 to 60 degrees farenheit and 50- 70% relative humidity. Under such conditions, acorn squash will usually last about five to eight weeks; butternuts, two to three months; and Hubbards, five to six months. 

Pear Harvest 

Most pear cultivars should not be allowed to ripen on the tree. They should be picked while still firm and ripened after harvest. Tree-ripened fruits are often of poor quality because of the development of grit cells and the browning and softening of the inner flesh. Pears ripen from the inside out and waiting until the outside is completely ripe will often result in the interior of the fruit being mushy and brown. 

Commercial growers determine the best time to harvest pears by measuring the decrease in fruit firmness as the fruit matures. This varies with growing conditions and variety. A Magness meter is used for testing and measures the pressure needed to push a 5/16-inch tip a specified distance into an individual fruit. Home gardeners can use these other indicators: 

1. A change in the fruit ground color from a dark green to light green or yellowish green. The ground color is the background color of the fruit. 

2. Fruit should part easily from the branch when it is lifted up and twisted. 

3. Corking over of lenticels. Lenticels are the "breathing pores" of the fruit. They start out as a white to greenish white color and turn brown due to corking as the fruit nears maturity. They look like brown “specks” on the fruit. 

4. Development of characteristic pear aroma and taste of sampled fruit. 

Pears will actually be of higher quality if they are cooled immediately after harvest. Temperatures between 31 and 50 degrees will work with the warmer temperatures actually reducing the amount of chilling needed. Just don’t go over 50 degrees. Homeowners may want to use a refrigerator, if possible. The amount of chilling required varies by cultivar from two days to several weeks. 

Pears ripen in one to three weeks after being removed from storage if held at 60 to 65 F. They can then be canned or preserved. If you wish to store some for ripening later, fresh-picked fruit should be placed in cold storage at around 31 F and 90 percent humidity. Placing fruit in unsealed gallon plastic bags can provide the necessary humidity. 

Ripen small amounts as needed by moving them to a warmer location and holding them at 60 to 65 degrees F. Ripening at too high a temperature (75 F and higher) may result in the fruit breaking down without ripening.