Winter squash storage
We are in the middle of the winter season and believe it or not, a backyard garden can still be helpful in creating great food right now. In a roundabout way. There is nothing growing in our gardens at this point unless you are one of those extreme gardeners that utilizes season extension technology. But it is the winter squashes that can be harvested in the late fall and remain in storage up to several months.
To prolong winter squash well into winter, they need to be picked when mature. A good way to determine this is trying to puncture the squash skin with a thumbnail. If it easily breaks the skin; the fruit is still immature and needs to remain on the vine for another week or two.
Once mature, cut the stem two inches from the fruit. Research has shown that most winter squash (except for Hubbard type) do not store well without their stems.
If possible, cure the pumpkins before placing into storage. On a backyard gardener scale, this can be down by placing them in an enclosed area with a small heater over 10 days with 80 temperatures.
Even after harvested, it is still a living organism, as it is respiring while held in storage. The trick is too slow down this process and prevent rots, so they can last a long time. Once cured, the squash should be stored in a cool area with temperatures somewhere between 50 and 55 F and humidity around 75 percent. If the humidity around the winter squash is too low, the surrounding air will start removing water from the fruit, decreasing the shelf life.
Occasionally check on winter squash during the winter. If decay is noticeable, those fruit need to be discarded immediately or used for that night’s meal (with the decay spot cut out).
With proper harvesting and storage of winter squash, your garden can provide for the dinner table will into May. Just in time for a new gardening season.
Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.
Approximate Storage Life OF YOUR SQUASH
1 – 2 months