When harvesting acorn squash, timing is everything. You want the squash to be slightly firm, yet buttery. You want it to be slightly sweet, but not over-ripe and mushy. So how do you know when your squash are ready to be picked? After all, the darn things turn dark green before they are mature and they stay dark green until they are past their prime. Many inexperienced backyard vegetable gardeners aren't sure when they should pick their acorn squash. Don't worry, we've got you covered.
Most varieties of acorn squash are ready to be harvested 75-100 days after planting the seeds. The best way to tell if your acorn squash is ready to be picked is by the colors on the fruit and the texture of the skin.
The part of the squash that is touching the ground should be a deep orange color - something that might remind you of autumn. If it's light orange, the squash is not mature enough. If it is pale yellow or creamy white, it's definitely not ready to be picked. Let it mature another couple of days and check again. If you harvest an acorn squash too early, you can expect the inside flesh to be bland, tough and quite pale in color. You've worked too hard planting the seeds and taking care of the plant to get subpar squash. We know it's hard to wait because you're excited to taste the fruits of your labors. But if it's not ripe, we can almost guarantee that you'll be disappointed with the results. Stay patient and wait until you see that nice orange spot on the bottom of the squash before you think about harvesting.
When the colored patch has turned deep orange, use your fingernail to check the toughness of the skin. If it resists slightly to being punctured, it's ready to be picked. However, it the skin is still tender and punctures easily, it needs a couple of more days on the vine to mature. These last couple of days can be crucial to develop the sugars in the squash. The idea is to maximize the sugar content while also not letting the squash become over-ripe. The last few days are also extremely important if you're going to be storing the squash whole in a root cellar or basement. They will store much better if the skin has toughened up a little bit. That skin is what will protect the inside of the squash during the winter storage months. If the skin isn't tough enough, the squash will be more susceptible to premature rot, moisture penetration or damage from rodents or insects.
If you are worried about the bottom of the squash turning soft during the last few days of ripening on the vine due to contact with the ground, you can place a board or brick or mat underneath it. This will get it off the ground just enough so that the bottom of the squash won't prematurely rot before the rest of it is ripe.
When picking acorn squash, use a knife or shears to cut the squash from the vine. It's important to make a nice clean cut for a couple of reasons. First, if you just try to harvest the squash by plucking it from the vine, there's a good chance you'll do damage to the plant, which could negatively affect future squash production. And second, if you end up with a squash that doesn't have the stem attached, it won't keep very long and will tend to rot fairly quickly. Try to leave about an inch of stem attached to the squash when you're cutting it off the vine.
After harvesting, wipe off any dirt with a damp cloth. The squash can then be stored for 2-3 months in a cool, dry, dark place like a basement, crawl space or root cellar. If you plan to eat the squash in a few days, they can be stored on the kitchen counter or table as-is, at room temperature. Do not put the squash in the refrigerator or cover them as this will cause them to spoil faster. Acorn squash will last for 10-14 days at normal room temperature before beginning to spoil.
If you don't have a good spot to store the whole squash long term, you can also freeze it. Just cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds and roast it cut side down in a baking dish in the oven at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Let cool, scrape out the flesh and put it in airtight bags and store in the freezer. The squash will last at least 6 months in the freezer.
Now that you're done harvesting acorn squash, it's time for a few of our favorite recipes...