(released August 2, 2001)
by B. Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist
This summer's heat wave is bringing the vegetable garden to maturity a bit earlier than usual in some areas. So many of our typical fall-harvested items may be ready sooner than you're expecting.
Winter squash is so named because it is harvested in the mature stage, when flavor is rich and the rind is tough, making it suitable for winter storage. Summer squash is harvested in the immature stage, when the rind is still very tender and seeds have not yet developed.
Usually, winter squash begins maturing in September or perhaps late August. But this year, some fruits are already mature enough to pick. How can you tell if your squash is ready?
There are many different types of winter squash, and each has its own tell-tale signs of maturity. In general, look for a color change on the rind. For example, the butternut squash changes from light beige to deep tan when ripe. Many winter squash will develop an orange blush in spots, such as the Acorn squash, which is deep glossy green with a yellow spot facing the ground. When the yellow spot changes to orange, the fruit is ready to pick.
Spaghetti squash changes from creamy white to bright yellow at maturity. The delicata types, which have green steaks across a white background, are ready when the white changes to beige and a orange blush appears.
You'll probably want to eat the early maturing fruits right away, since it's been such a long wait since last year's crop. But when you're ready to start storing squash for winter use, choose a cool, dark, dry location. Winter squash can be stored from two to six months if kept at about 55 F, depending on the cultivar. The challenge will be to find such a cool storage area while summer is still cranking up the heat.
The URL for this page is http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/winsquash.html