A ripe rind is one sign a butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) is ready to pick, and there are other signs. An annual winter squash vine, butternut squash grows 3/4 to 1 1/2 feet tall with a vine 10 to 15 feet long. Creamy-white to orange-yellow flowers appear in late spring and orange-fleshed fruits develop, which ripen in fall. Changes in the vine and changes in the color and texture of the fruit are some signs to look for that tell you butternut squash is ready for harvesting.
Days From Sowing
Providing severe weather conditions such as drought or prolonged cold temperatures don't occur, butternut squash fruits ripen a predictable number of days after sowing. In regular growing conditions, it takes 80 to 100 days after the seed was sown.
Drought stresses plants, and may speed up ripening. However, cold weather slows down butternut squash growth, and then fruit may ripen later than expected.
When butternut squash fruits are ready for picking, the vine has done its job. It stops growing and begins to die back. If your butternut squash vine stops producing new shoots and leaves, and the existing leaves begin to yellow and wilt, the fruit is probably nearly ripe.
Butternut squash skin is light whitish-green, smooth and shiny while the fruit is growing. As they ripen, the fruits turn deep tan and become dull and dry.
A change in skin texture is another sign of ripeness in butternut squash. Slightly soft when the fruit is growing, butternut squash skin becomes very tough when the fruit is ripe.
If you can't make a mark in a butternut squash with your thumbnail, the fruit is ripe.
When butternut squash fruit are ready to harvest, cut the stems with pruning shears or a sharp knife.
To help prevent the spread of pests and diseases, sterilize your pruning shears or knife before and after harvesting butternut squash. Wipe the blades with a cloth that was dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Cut the squash stems 1 inch from the fruit, and put them in a cool, dark, dry place. Don't allow the fruit to touch each other. Store the squash at 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 to 75 percent humidity and it will keep for two to three months. Check the fruit every one or two weeks, and remove and discard any that look diseased or have begun to decay.
Butternut squash can withstand a light freeze, but if a hard freeze threatens, you should harvest the fruit.
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.