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Harvesting Butternut Squash

Another successful gardening season is coming to an end. It was a wet year with lots of heavy rain but we had a decent yield of vegetables. This year, we planted tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, bell peppers, and butternut squash.

Our garden is not treated with chemical pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizer. This is a challenge some years. Aside from the rain, our biggest struggle was hard shell beetles that just devour the green beans. I was able to harvest at least 12 gallons of beans before letting the plants to go seed. Or should I say, the plant became a delicious feast for the beetles and the leaves disappeared before our eyes!

The butternut squash has been very proliferative this year. Considering butternut squash is my favorite squash, I am looking forward to a large harvest. Not only do we have the squash that we planted in our garden space, but there is a volunteer butternut growing from our compose pile. The difference in the size and visual health of the plants is astonishing. We have decided it is time to treat our garden spot with compost.

Butternut squash plants are beautiful and invasive in the sense that it will take over it’s growing spot and more. This plant will vine out in every direction. The yield of fruit per plant is quite a bit of squash. Three or four plants usually produce enough crop to last us through the winter.

Harvesting butternut is not a quick task. This winter squash takes a long time to grow, but once it is mature on the vine, there is still another step before taking them. Unlike a cucumber or zucchini, butternut stays on the vine until the vine and surrounding leaves have withered. Even still, you will need a pair of pruning sheers to cut the vegetable from the vine because the stalk is tough. In my experience, simply picking the squash by rolling the top off eliminates the stalk, but results in an opening in the top that leaves the squash vulnerable to the surroundings, reducing durability and shelf life.

Once the squash is picked, it is time to let it cure. When we think of the term “curing”, we think of food preservation, Which is exactly what we mean here! By curing squash, we are actually going to let the sun do the work. We are going to allow the squash to rest for a week or two in the sun, turning it a little bit every day, so it gets a nice tan. The sun tightens the casing of the butternut, creating a seal that allows it to be stored for a longer duration. This process also deepens the color and sweetens the fruit. Any gourds, pumpkins or winter squashes can be cured this way.

Once we are ready to bring in the squash, we wipe it down to remove dirt with a vinegar and water combination. Rule of thumb: Never use chemicals on your produce. Now you are ready for storage. These beauties can be kept in room temperature which makes it easier for some just to put them in the outbuilding or garage. I’ll keep a few on my counter. Others I will peel and freeze. (Stay tuned for a demonstration!) Be careful not to puncture or bruise your squash as it will lead to shorter stability. Anything that weakens the skin will allow bacteria or air to begin to deteriorate the fruit. Ew mold!

Butternut squash is one of my low-calorie, nutrient-packed favorites for the fall season. It is a versatile vegetable that can be used in a number of different recipes. There is no getting bored with butternut. Next week, I will be demonstrating how to peel and freeze butternut along with one of my favorite recipes. Happy #gardening!

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