From the ground up: There's a right time, way to harvest squash

Where in the World? Class to be held Wednesday at Marion Public Library

Harvest vegetables at the right stage of maturity for nutritious, high-quality produce. When properly harvested and stored, some vegetables will keep most of their original flavor and food value for months, according to Richard Jauron, horticulturist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Q: What is the proper way to harvest and store winter squash?

A: Harvest winter squash when the fruit are fully mature. Mature winter squash have very hard skins that canít be punctured with the thumbnail. Additionally, mature winter squash have dull-looking surfaces.

When harvesting winter squash, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. These injuries are not only unsightly, they provide entrances for various rot-producing organisms. Cut the fruit off the vine with a pruning shears. Leave a 1-inch stem on each fruit.

After harvesting, cure winter squash (except for the acorn types) at a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees and a relative humidity of 80 percent to 85 percent. Curing helps to harden the squash skins and heal any cuts and scratches. Do not cure acorn squash. The high temperature and relative humidity during the curing process actually reduces the quality and storage life of acorn squash.

After curing, store winter squash in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not store squash near apples, pears or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit release ethylene gas, which shortens the storage life of squash.

When properly cured and stored, the storage lives of acorn, butternut and Hubbard squash are about five to eight weeks, two to three months, and five to six months, respectively.

Q: When should I harvest my pumpkins?

A: Pumpkins can be harvested when they have developed a deep, uniform orange color and the rind is hard. Mature pumpkins also can be left in the garden/field until the vines are killed by a light frost or freeze.

When harvesting pumpkins, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. Cut the pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pair of lopping shears. Leave several inches of stem attached to each fruit. A pumpkin with a 3- to 5-inch stem or handle is more attractive. Also, pumpkins with stems are less likely to rot. Do not carry pumpkins by their stems. The stems may not be able to support the weight of the pumpkins and break off.

After harvesting the pumpkins, cure them at a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches.

After curing, store pumpkins in a cool, dry location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. When storing pumpkins, place them in a single layer where they donít touch one another. Good air circulation helps to prevent moisture from forming on the surfaces of the fruit and retards the growth of decay fungi and bacteria. Placing pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat, which may result in the rotting of some fruit. Promptly remove and discard any pumpkins that show signs of decay.

2014 Garden Calendar available

The 2014 garden calendar shares the Wonder of Trees in photographs, facts and quotes. Calendars can be ordered from the Extension Online Store at


  • Where in the World? Class, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Marion Public Library, 1095 Sixth Ave., Marion. Take a photo journey with Linn County Master Gardener Zora Ronan and visit a few favorite gardens in Europe and the Caribbean. Contact: (319) 377-9839.

  • Midwest Environmental Education Conference, Thursday to Saturday at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. $300. Register:
  • Pickles Gone Wild: Homemade Probiotics with Roxane Mitten, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the New Pioneer Food Co-op, 1101 Second St., Coralville. Fresh pickled vegetables are tasty and easy to make, and mysterious Kombucha has become very popular! Join live culture enthusiast Roxane Mitten as she talks about the biology of fermentation for these two types of products, and explains how to do it yourself. Perhaps you have seen a crock or big jar with a plate holding food under brine? Friendly microorganisms make the veggies more tender, more flavorful, and even boost your digestion. Roxane will demonstrate the preparation of Pickled Mixed Vegetables, Homemade Cultured Ketchup, and Kombucha with a secondary ferment of fruit juice creating good color, flavor, and effervescence. We will also sample featured cultured foods from the Co-op shelves. $15. Register:
  • Welcome Back Vocational Agriculture in Independence, 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at 700 20th Ave. SW, Independence. See the new high school and tour the growing and expanding Independence Community School District gardens. A walking trail has been completed that goes through the school district and features learning centers along trail as well as a 1.5-acre garden. The school district is also adding a butterfly garden in the beds and sunflowers. Food grown in the garden goes to the school lunch program. Food will be served after the field day. Make reservations by Tuesday with Lauren Zastrow at (515) 232-5661 at
  • Backyard Forest Conference, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Iowa State University Johnson County Extension Building, 3109 Old Highway 218 South, Iowa City. For owners of small backyard forests of 2 to 15 acres. $15. Register at or with Becky Smith at 1-(800) 369-1269 Ext. 112 or at
  • Fall Wild Edibles, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Indian Creek Nature Center. Taught by botanist Christine Kirpes and naturalist Jan Aiels. $10 to $15. Register by 4 p.m. Thursday at (319) 362-0664 or

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