Harvesting Delicata and Acorn Squash

Since we planted squash very early this year (in order to get the plants established by the time June Gloom set in) we are already set to harvest some of our winter squash.  Our Golden Pippin Acorn squash and most of our Delicata squash plants have withered, leaving behind golden fruits that will store through winter.

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With pumpkins, it’s easy to know when to harvest – just let the vines turn brown and crispy, then pick your pumpkin.  Not all winter squash is that simple.  For example, I’ve been reading about gardeners who have picked acorn squash too soon and have reported that it taste horrible.  There are a few tell-tale signs to help you make good harvesting decisions when picking Delicata and Acorn squash:

Thumbnail Test – Winter squash is ready to pick when the skins can not be pierced with your thumbnail.  Summer squashes (like zucchini and yellow crookneck) will easily yield to a thumbnail, but winter squashes have a thicker skin, which makes them good for long storage.

Withered Vines – The vines and leaves on winter squash will turn brown and dry up, leaving behind a trail of squash that are still attached.  The stems will break easily or crack if you try to lift the squash.

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This Golden Pippin Acorn is not quite ready to harvest.  Note there is still some yellow coloration to the stem.

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These acorn squash are basically ready to harvest, since the stem is dry, brown and withered.  It will crack easily.

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This Delicata still has some time to go, even though the leaves have died back.  The stem is still green and the squash is bright.  The cream color will change when it is ready.

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The yellow circle indicates dried vines – this squash is ready to pick.  The background color has yellowed a little and orange flecks are seen in some places.

Harvesting tips: Cut squash with pruning sheers, leaving at least one inch of stem on them.  This apparently increases their ability to store longer.  Use any squash that show signs of cracking or softening right away, but if it’s too far gone, bury it or compost it, and you will likely get a surprise volunteer next spring.

One of the reasons why I grow Delicata squash is because it’s unusual looking. When ripe the cream background and deep green stripes will be tinged with orange.  The other great thing about Delicata is that it can be eaten without peeling the skin.  What a time-saver!

Note: Acorn squashes are usually green, so it’s easier to know when to harvest those – when the skin has turned deep green, and the underside has changed color from yellow to orange.

Curing: All winter squashes need to cure for a few days.  You can cure your squash by leaving them in the sun for a few days, or bring them indoors and keep them in a warm area to allow the skin to harden further.  After that, you can store them for months!

What’s your favorite squash to grow (and eat)?  How is your squash doing this year?  Share your experiences here.

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32 Responses to Harvesting Delicata and Acorn Squash

  1. Sara says:

    I grew them for the first time this year. I have picked a few too soon. The flesh was still yellow and the seeds difficult to scrape out, but the flavor and texture are good. My vines are still green tells how early I am! I just couldn’t wait!

  2. Sharon Odle says:

    I grew delicata squash for the first time this year. I am wondering if I picked it too early or if I just had not let it cure yet. It did not have the right texture. I did the fingernail test but after reading above, the stems were still green although the vines were brown. I may have gotten ahead of myself, I was beginning to worry about the deer I have been seeing in my yard. I will try another one this weekend and hope for the best. I don’t think this is the right word but I would say around the seeds seemed mealy and when cooked, it never got soft (400 degrees for 40 minutes with some water on the pan. Any thought?

    • Christy says:

      HI Sharon, that is unusual for Delicata to take longer than half an hour to cook through. Strange. Usually you let the vine die back completely before harvesting, which it sounds like you did. If the skin resisted puncture with the thumbnail test it was definitely done. Mealy texture could be a watering issue. I hope the other one is better. Keep us posted.

  3. Annette says:

    I’m a first time Delicata grower this year. I’m so glad I found your article on when to harvest them. I’ve noticed a boom in new growth this month. They are producing very well, and I don’t want to mess up the harvest. A friend from work told me about them , and I told him I would try growing them this season. I am so glad they are doing so well. I live in northeast Pa. and I set out the plants at the end of May. My plants are still green and there isn’t much sign of them dying back.

  4. Josh says:

    Butternut are by far my favorite. I like to cube them in one inch cubes and fill a very large glass cake pan with them then take a pound of bacon and cut it into 1 inch chunks and sprinkle them all over the squash (maple is my favorite bacon to use). Then if that isn’t enough I put about a pound of butter spread out all over them. Lastly I place pork chops on top and bake them covered at 350-375 for about an hour or until the squash is soft. I uncover them and bake them at 400 for about 10 mins or until the pork starts to brown. People that say they hate squash I Halle he to try my squash and I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t love it.

    • Christy says:

      Wow, Josh, that’s an amazingly decadent recipe. It sounds great, even though I’m a vegetarian. No wonder everyone loves your squash! Thanks for sharing your secret here.

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