These tips for storing winter squash will help ensure you have fresh vegetables from your garden long into the winter months. Summer is easy. Our gardens are overflowing with leafy lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and fresh ears of corn. As the temperatures drop, our gardens can still offer us a second crop of spinach, kale and even garden peas. But, once the ground freezes, we’re left to vegetables we’ve canned over the summer and the winter squash we harvested in the fall.
Tips for Storing Winter Squash Properly
Winter squash aren’t really grown or harvested in the winter. They are grown in the summer and typically harvested in the late fall. They do, however, keep well during the winter which is probably where the name came from. There are many different types of winter squash, and there are different storage tips for each variety. If you cannot grow them all in your garden, you can probably find most of them at your local farmer’s market, food co-op or grocery store. Here are a few of my favorites.
Your typical acorn squash weighs between one and two pounds each. They have orange to yellow flesh and a dark green skin with orange markings. Acorn squash is ripe when the exterior is firm and free of any soft spots. They can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one month. Acorn squash with blemishes or soft spots should be eaten quickly because they will not store well.
Banana squash has a long, slightly curved shape and originated in Peru. Depending on the variety of banana squash you grow, the skin can be anywhere from pinkish orange to bluish gray. These squash grow to a fairly impressive size. Most are about ten pounds when harvested, however, they can grow up to forty pounds. Store it in a dry, dark, cool place with good air circulation for up to three months.
Butternut squash is probably one of the most common types of winter squash. It is a pear-shaped squash that has a light, creamy colored skin with bright orange flesh. It’s important to leave the squash on the vine until late September or early October to allow the skin to thicken. This will let the squash store for a longer period. Store your squash in a cool, dark place like a closet for optimal conditions. Stored properly, butternut squash can last for up to three months.
A hubbard squash is one of the largest types of winter squash. It has a hard skin that is typically gray, green or slightly bluish in color. Unlike the smooth skin of the butternut squash, a hubbard squash has a lumpy, textured skin. The flavor is slightly similar to that of a pumpkin. Hubbard squash can grow up to 50 pounds and are often sold cut and seeded at the grocery store for this reason. You cannot judge the ripeness of this squash by the skin or the feel of the squash since the skin is so thick. It will be ripe when it is between 100 and 120 days old. Hubbard squash needs a humidity level of about 70% and should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to six months.
Spaghetti squash has a bright yellow skin and yellow flesh. It doesn’t taste like spaghetti, but when you remove the flesh after cooking using a fork, the flesh can be used in place of pasta. Spaghetti squash can be stored in the refrigerator for one or two weeks, or it can be stored in a cool, dry spot for up to one month. Spaghetti squash is one of the more tender varieties of winter squash and should be eaten first.
Winter squash should be left on the vine as long as possible, but they should be harvested before the first frost to avoid damaging the squash. The best time to harvest most winter squash is when the vine has started to die but before the first frost. The stem of the squash should feel hard and slightly brittle, not at all green and moist. When you harvest the winter squash, be certain that you leave at least two or three inches of stem on the squash to allow the squash to harden off. Always cut the squash from the stem, never tear it to avoid damaging the squash.
Winter squash will store best if you can slow the respiration rate. The cooler the temperature is, the longer a winter squash will last. It’s vital that the squash remains cool but never freeze. When choosing squash to store for longer term use, you need to select those without any blemishes or soft spots. If you try to store a damaged squash, it will not only begin to rot; it will cause the other vegetables you’re storing to go bad more quickly as well. It is important that the area you select for storage has good air circulation to prevent rot. Turn the squash occasionally in storage to help improve air flow.
When choosing which varieties of winter squash to store, you’ll want to be certain that you have squash that will last for varying amounts of time. Spaghetti squash should be used in the first month of storage so it makes sense to pair it with butternut squash which can be stored for up to three months. Hubbard squash is a great squash to add because it can be used up to six months after harvesting. This selection will ensure that you have winter squash available to eat throughout the winter.