Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Consider the flavorful and nutritious winter squash, a winter staple. It is important to know which types are the best keepers when choosing which varieties to grow. Butternuts are generally considered to have the best "shelf life" and I have successfully stored my favorites, the Seminole squash or pumpkin, for up to a full year, cooking up the last few to make room for the incoming harvest.
Ideally you want to leave your squash on the vine until they are fully mature, developing hard skins. When you press your thumbnail against the skin, it should not leave an impression or dent. However I have experienced success picking squash that were still slightly green on the eve of a frost and had them finish ripening in storage.
When harvesting your squash or pumpkins, leave 1 to 3 inches of stem. The stem will want snap away from the fruit, so always cut, don’t pull, the squash from the vines. Remember to never use the stem as a “handle” for carrying the fruits from the field. Although the squash "belly button" may dry and harden, it can also stay moist, oozing juices that can attract bacteria leading to rot. It is quite likely that you will end up with some fruits that have lost their stem, so plan to consume these first.
As you bring in your harvest, separate your Grade B, the ones without stem and any that have cuts or nicks in the skin, from those that qualify as Grade A. Any little scratch or cut provides an entrance for bacteria and rot. Always wash away the dirt, grime and mildew, before storing, and many "experts" suggest you wash your pumpkins and squash in a very mild chlorine bleach solution consisting of 2 TBS of bleach to one gallon of water.
It is also suggested that you cure the squash for ten days by placing them in a confined space at temperatures of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity. This helps harden the skin and concentrate the sugars, adding to the sweetness. Be careful not to over do it, which can make your squash dry and stringy, even bitter. I find I achieve the same results once the squash have been stored for a month or two.
Squash should be stored one layer deep and should not touch each other to insure good ventilation. Do not store on a cement floor unless you place a layer of cardboard down first. The ideal storage temperature is 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and it is best to keep the storage temperature even. Fluctuating temperatures will again encourage rot.
Visually inspect your squash every week, ideally turning the fruits occasionally to expose new areas to air. By examining your stored squash regularly, you can spot any rot as soon as it develops and before it engulfs the entire fruit. All is not lost.
Cut away the bad area and prepare it for dinner or the cooked squash can then be frozen for later consumption. I like to pressure cook the squash for approximately 5 minutes, then puree in a blender, skins and all until velvety smooth, the first step for producing pies or one of my favorite recipes, coconut ginger squash soup. Check out the step by step instructions for this delicious soup on my post for MOTHER's Real Food blog.
Douglas Stevenson is a long term member of The Farm Community, one of the largest and oldest ecovillages in the world. He is the author of The Farm Then and Now, a Model for Sustainable Living sold in MOTHER's Notable New Books. He is also the host of GreenLife Retreats, including The Farm Experience Weekend and workshops on organic gardening, sustainability, and living the green life!
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