It looks like fall is finally coming in, and that means it will soon be time to store squash for winter. Depending on the variety, winter squash can keep for weeks or months, allowing you to eat from your garden well into winter.
For the best storage, harvest squash when they are fully ripe—with lush color on the parts of the squash exposed to the sun and a rind that is hard to pierce with your fingernail. Cut the squash off of the vine using a knife or pruner, leaving an inch or more of stem on the squash. You don’t want to accidentally pierce the squash as that can lead to rot. Many gardeners then cure the squash, either leaving them outside to cure in the sun or putting them in a place with warm (80 degrees) temperatures and high humidity. (Not all squash require curing. Check out this helpful chart for squash curing and storage times.) If your squash is a bit under-ripe, I’ve found you can bring them in the house and let them ripen and cure in a sunny spot.
In your great-grandmother’s time, root cellars were cool but not freezing areas, usually under the house. They were perfect for storing squash! While many finished basements today are too warm for storing squash, there are ways to create root-cellar spaces in a modern home.
Squash stores best in spaces that are dry (humidity under 70 percent, which should be no problem in our dry Minnesota homes) and cool. The ideal temperature is 50 to 55 degrees, though I had good luck storing winter squash in an unfinished basement where the temps were often in the low 60s. They also like it dark.
Store squash off of the floor, preferably in a container with air circulation—a milk crate or wire storage drawer works great. It should not be stored near fruit, such as apples or pears that emit ethylene gas that leads to rot. You could also wipe the skin of the squash with a 10 percent bleach solution to keep rot at bay. Once your squash is in storage, check it weekly and use it regularly! If it starts to develop soft spots, it’s time to cook it off.
If you have freezer space, cooked squash stores really well frozen. Just cook and mash the squash, store it in air-tight containers or bags, and use it in baked goods, root vegetable mashes or other dishes. Winter squash, especially the sweet butternut types, can be substituted for pumpkin in any baked good.
How was your winter squash harvest this year?