Squash are a popular choice with home gardeners, and the variety available for growing makes them an attractive choice for larger gardens. However, many squash growers are confused about when to harvest squash and often end up harvesting summer squash too late in the season. There are important differences as to when to harvest summer and winter squash, and knowing the difference will ensure an abundant yield of tasty fruit.
Pick summer squash, such as zucchini or yellow crookneck, before it is fully mature. Summer squash is ready for harvest when it is about 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Summer squash is typically ready within a week after flowering.
Avoid waiting until summer squash is large and fully mature. Upon reaching maturity, summer squash develops a bitter taste and thick skin that may make it unappealing for use in cooking.
Harvest summer squash frequently to encourage fruit production. Go over each plant every couple of days and remove large fruit to allow room for new fruit to emerge.
Pick winter squash, such as butternut, spaghetti, and acorn, when the plants are fully mature. This usually occurs at the end of the growing season, right before the first frost.
Check winter squash for maturity by tapping it gently. Mature fruit sounds hollow and feels solid. You can also press against the skin of the squash with your thumbnail. If you can press down with moderate force without puncturing the skin, the squash is mature.
Harvest winter squash early if you expect a hard frost. While winter squash can tolerate light frost, even when the vine dies, a hard frost can damage the plant. Cut the squash off the plant with a piece of vine still attached, and place the fruit to cure in a cool location for several days. This will increase storage time so that your crop is not wasted.