With its tough outer rind and long growth time, it can be difficult to know when is butternut squash ripe and ready for harvesting. Although they can ripen off the vine, the best and easiest way to get the most flavorful squash is to leave them on the vine until they are perfectly ripe.
Here are some tips on when to pick butternut squash for the best flavor and nutrition.
How Do You Know When to Pick Butternut Squash?
Ripe butternut squash is creamy, sweet, and nutty – the perfect fall and winter vegetable for soups, casseroles, risotto, pasta, and even dessert. Pick it too early and it will be flavorless and tough – pick it too late and it will be mushy or even dried out.
Luckily, there are 6 easy ways you can tell if your butternut squash is ready for harvesting. We also have a great guide on how to grow butternut squash if you’d like more useful tips and insights!
1. A Brown, Dried Stem
During the growing season when the squash is developing, the stem will be thick and green where it connects to the fruit. Once the squash is mature, the stem turns brown and starts to dry out.
When this happens, no more nutrients are being fed into the squash and it’s ready to be harvested. If the butternut is left on the vine well past maturity, the stem will come off easily.
However, it is better to harvest it before this happens, as the old, dying stem can become infected with mold, which can damage your butternut. If you spot any mold, it’s better not to eat it at all and to compost it instead.
2. Deep Tan Rind Color
Butternut squashes start off with pale white or yellow-green skin with darker green lines along their length. Over time, those lines begin to fade, and the rind turns a deep tan color. Ripe squashes will have a soft, matte color.
Even though butternut squash doesn’t turn brown like bananas or other fruit when they become overripe, you will still notice a color difference and the skin may appear spotted or damaged. Ripe squashes will have a soft, matte color.
A perfectly ripe butternut squash is a beige color; the darker the better. Always check for cuts or blemishes along the skin, as this damage can indicate that insects, fungus, or bacteria have gotten into the squash and it should be disposed of.
There should not be any signs of green on the butternut squash. I have made this mistake before, and my dinner didn’t turn out the way that I hoped. The squash was far from ready!
3. Hard, Tough Rind
As the butternut squash matures, so the rind becomes a hard, protective shell. To test the rind, press your fingernail gently into the rind (be careful not to cause any damage, as this can let in bacteria that will cause the butternut to rot).
If it dents easily, the butternut isn’t quite ready. If the rind is resistant to denting, it’s ready for harvesting. Here is another tip I always use. When you pick your butternut squash, make sure you harvest it with a longer stem of about 2 inches.
This will help the squash last longer, protecting it against bacteria that cause it to rot. I always use this tip when I don’t plan to eat the squash immediately.
4. It Has Reached Maximum Weight
Take a little time to research the type of butternut squash you have growing and determine what the mature size and weight of the squash should be. This way, you can compare your squash and see if they are ready for harvest.
A ripe butternut will feel weighty in your hands compared to its size because it’s juicy and filled with moisture.
5. Growth Rate
When you buy your butternut squash plants or grow them from seeds, you’ll be able to see how long it takes for a crop to reach maturity, which is usually around 110-120 days.
For this reason, it’s important to mark the date you planted the crop on your calendar as well as the expected harvest date. However, this is just a guideline, and factors like the climate, nutrients, and soil conditions can mean your crop takes a little longer or shorter to mature.
A good idea is to measure your butternuts each week and track their growth rate. Once they reach their mature size, they’ll stop growing. So, if you notice there has been no change in size for a week or two and it’s around the harvesting date, they’re ready for harvesting.
6. Tapping the Rind
Another way to tell when butternut squash is ripe is the tapping method. Gently use your knuckles to tap against your butternut squash. If it sounds a bit hollow, the squash is ripe and ready for harvesting or eating.
If it still sounds solid, then it needs more time on the vine. You can also use this method to tell if melons are ripe. If you are worried that your squash has gone bad, you can test it the same way you test eggs for freshness.
Simply place your squash in a large bucket of water. If it is fresh, it will stay on the bottom or float a bit above the bottom. If it has gone bad, it will float to the surface.
Will Butternut Squash Ripen Off the Vine?
Yes, butternut squash will ripen off the vine as long as the fruit is fairly mature and has mostly changed color from green to tan. You can help the squash to mature by storing it at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of around 80% for 10 days.
Putting it on the counter in the sunlight and rotating it every day may also help it ripen. Keep in mind that these squash won’t last as long in storage as those that are matured on the vine, so use them up quickly.
What Can You Do With Unripe Butternut Squash?
Because you need to harvest your butternut squash before the first frost sets in, many gardeners find they have to harvest their last butternuts before they are fully mature.
Simply store these at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of around 80% for 10 days and they should ripen. They can also ripen on a countertop in the sunlight.
When to Harvest Squash Butternut?
Butternut squash will take 110-120 days from seed to harvest. It’s best planted after the last frost, so that you can harvest the mature squash in the fall before the first frost of winter.
The growth rate depends on the climate, nutrition, and sunlight the plants get, so be sure to pick the right spot to grow your squash and feed them well to get the best harvest.
When is Butternut Squash Ready to Pick?
Depending on when you plant your squash, it can be ready for harvest in late summer, the fall, or early winter. The usual harvest time is from October to November, the same as pumpkins and other gourds.
If you are also planning to grow pumpkins, be sure to check our article on 5 things to know about pumpkin fertilization requirements.
How Many Butternut Squash Does One Plant Produce?
With the right climate, sunlight, and nutrition, one butternut plant can produce around 10-20 squash! Growing your own butternut squash is a very rewarding process for this reason, although you do need enough space for these large vines to spread, as they grow 9-18 inches high and up to 15 feet wide.
How Do You Store Butternut Squash After Picking?
While you can freeze cooked or raw, prepared butternut squash, you can also store them whole. When harvesting, keep a stem of 2 inches or more on the squash, as this will help it last longer.
Check out these Easy Butternut Squash Recipes.
You can then store butternut squash in a dark space (cupboard, cellar, pantry, or shelf) at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, where it can last 2-4 months. While in storage, make sure they are not touching each other or anything else, and turn them every week or so and check for soft spots or a soft stem, which can indicate rot.
Squashes that go soft should be composted.
Wrapping Up – Quick Tips on When to Pick Butternut Squash
If you’re growing butternut squash at home, it’s important to know when to harvest butternut squash in order to get the best flavor from this wonderful fall and winter staple.
By harvesting it at the right time and leaving a 2-inch stem on the squash, it can last up to 4 months in storage. Let’s quickly review our tips:
- The squash should be a deep, uniform tan with a hard, matte rind that is resistant to denting.
- The stem should be turning brown and drying out.
- The weight and size should be within the range for that type of butternut squash (around 8 inches) and should be heavy in your hands.
- When you tap the squash, it should sound a little hollow.
When you can see all of these signs, you’ll know exactly when to pick butternut squash!