Sunday, October 26, 2014

Treating Butternut Squash Right To Maximize Storage Life

Butternut Squash harvest
I love growing butternut squash.  I get a kick out of their sprawling vines, productivity, and ability to provide delicious starch all winter for us as a storage crop.  Butternuts have been so reliably productive, it has been hard to try any other winter squash varieties, but I plan to branch out into the amazing world of winter squash colors and textures and try a few new varieties next year.  In my short squash growing career, I have read many variations on the perfect time to harvest, and the best way to cure butternut squash.  I'll share with you those variations and way I have chosen.


Many an extension site recommends to harvest when the squash stem has turned from green to brown and the skin is hard enough to resist your fingernail if you try to puncture it.  Fair enough.  However, Butternut take a long time to mature, usually around 100 days, and since I got mine in a little late, they were at the "almost mature but could have used a few more warm weeks" stage in late October.  The extension sites recommend to definitely harvest before a hard frost as cold damage decreases storage length.  Where it got a little murky was that cold damage could occur in the 40s as well.  So....if a long period of nights in the 40s and rain were upon us, is it best to harvest or leave them in the field to hopefully mature fully?  With a mix of completely mature and almost mature squash, I went with harvesting them.  One more tip on testing stripes near the stem disappear when the squash is fully mature.


It was obvious from the literature that ideal curing happens outside in the field during 10 days of warm sunny weather.  Not the case here during harvest, so I took them inside to cure in the warm basement near the furnace.  Humidity is good during this period.  Another point of contention was to wash the squash and bleach them, or to leave them unwashed.  I wasn't thrilled with dipping my squash in a 10% bleach solution so I went with option 3: gently wash the soil off with water, then a dip in straight vinegar.  In the past, any spoilage that has happened to my squash started near the stems, so I paid particular attention to getting the stems clean.  After drying on towels, 10 days of curing on cardboard cushioned the squash from bruising.


Butternuts can store for many months, if storage conditions are perfect.  In fact they taste best after several weeks of storage.  Storing them in a dry, warm location will cause them to dry out and become woody.  So, it was clear ideal temp was 50 - 55 degrees F, with no chance of dipping below 40 degrees F.  The best place I have for that kind of storage is our spare room with the door closed and the radiator turned off.  We have an unheated porch where I am trying to store onions and garlic in an old dishwasher for insulation....but that definitely gets colder than 50 degrees once it really starts getting cold.  Shelves with padding make the squash nice and comfy.  Old fabric or cardboard work well to line the shelves, with space between each squash.  I plan to check regularly for any squash that is going south and eat promptly if found!

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