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

March 28, 2014 | 8:47 pm

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 Store.extension.iastate.edu.

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