Butternut squash is one of the best fruits to grow in your garden, as it’s hardy and grows in most climates. The only challenge is knowing when to harvest them. While you’ll get unripe butternuts if you pick them too soon, what happens if you leave butternut squash on the vine for too long?
You cannot leave butternut squash on the vine for too long. It will rot or become infected by worms and other pests. It is better to harvest butternuts when they are ripe, but leaving them on the vine for too long will damage the butternuts.
This article will discuss why you shouldn’t leave butternut squash on the vine for too long. I’ll also give you tips on how to know when your butternuts are ready for harvesting and when you should make exceptions. I’ll also give you storage tips to prevent butternut squash from rotting.
What Happens if You Leave Butternut Squash on the Vine for Too Long?
Butternut squash and most types of pumpkin don’t ripen easily and may take several weeks before they’re ready for harvesting. It’s always best to let the butternut squash ripen on the vine since they don’t ripen after being picked. However, leaving butternuts on the vine for too long is also a problem.
If you leave butternut squash on the vine after it ripens, it may rot or get infected with diseases, fungi, and pests. Butternut squash is a hardy fruit and will not get damaged easily. However, if left in the sun for too long or in a humid or moist environment, it may rot much faster.
How long you should leave butternut squash on the vine depends on how quickly the butternut ripens and the surrounding weather. Generally, butternut squash ripens faster in hot and humid weather, while cold weather will cause it to rot at a rapid rate.
When Should You Harvest Butternut Squash?
Unlike tomatoes, it’s hard to know when butternut squash is ripe. Picking the butternut fruit too soon or too late will cause problems since butternut squash doesn’t mature off the vine. Luckily, there’s an easy rule of thumb to follow as to when butternut squash should be picked.
You should harvest butternut squash when the rind is hard and has a uniform color. The butternut should have a deep, dark tan and should not have any green lines. If the stem hardens and becomes light brown, it is a sign your butternut squash is ready for harvesting.
Let’s explain further the ways to help you determine when your butternut squash is ready for harvesting:
It’s Harvesting Season
Butternut squash is usually harvested in late autumn before the first frost. If you’ve planted the crop in the early summer, you can harvest it around September or October. However, this method is usually better if you’re growing butternut squash on a large scale.
If you’re growing a few butternut plants in your garden, it’s best to check whether each butternut is ripe before you harvest it.
Always look for other signs your butternuts are ready for harvesting, even if you follow a harvesting schedule. It’s better to let the butternuts mature on the vine than to pick them too early.
The Rind Is Hard
The best way to check whether your butternut squash is ready for harvesting is to check the rind. If the skin is soft and you can pierce it with a fingernail, the butternut isn’t ripe enough yet. As the butternut ripens, the rind will harden, and the color will become deeper.
Butternuts that have green or white skin also have softer rinds. As the butternut matures in the sun, the skin will harden, protecting the butternut from insects and disease. However, if you leave the butternut on the vine for too long, it’ll get damaged despite the hard rind.
The Butternut Has a Deep Tan
Ripe butternuts have a deep brown tan, indicating that they’re ready to pick. If the butternuts have a partial tan or light color with green spots, they aren’t ready for picking. Ripe butternut will have a darker golden tan as the fruit ripens on the vine.
The dark golden tan color should be uniform in all butternut varieties, except for the striped ones. Striped varieties may have green or brown stripes and dark brown rind color.
The Butternut Is the Correct Size
If your butternut squashes are too light or small, they’re probably still developing and aren’t ripe for picking. Always wait until your butternut squash is big enough before harvesting. However, there are exceptions, and sometimes your butternuts will ripen before they reach their full size.
Most varieties of butternut squash are eight to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) when ripe. It’s quite rare that your butternuts will grow longer than a foot (30 cm) unless you’re cultivating a special variety or looking to grow a prize crop.
The average weight of a mature butternut is two to three pounds (0.91 to 1.36 kg). It still needs time to ripen if your butternut is almost full size but lighter than other butternuts.
A ripe butternut squash will feel heavy, have a deep tan and reach full size, so avoid harvesting before they ripen.
The Stem Will Turn Brown
The butternut stem that connects the plant will usually be thick and green when the butternut is growing. However, after the butternut reaches full size, the stem will start to harden and turn light brown. This is a sign the plant has stopped providing nutrients to the butternut.
When checking the color of the stem connecting the butternut, check for other signs that the butternut is ripe such as a hard rind or a deep golden color.
When Should You Harvest Unripe Butternut Squashes?
While you should always wait for butternuts to ripen on the vine before harvesting, there are some exceptions when it’s better to harvest the butternuts prematurely.
You should harvest unripe butternut if they are exposed to frost, if the plant has died or becomes infected with disease or pests or if the weather is too wet. If you are experiencing late autumn, you may have to harvest the butternuts early to prevent them from splitting.
Only harvest unripe butternuts if:
- The first frost has arrived. Always keep your butternuts away from frost since it’ll damage your plants. If you’ve planted them in the summer, they should be ready to harvest before the first frost in October. If you live in an area with early frosts, harvest your pumpkins early.
- The weather is too wet. It may compromise your butternut crop if the weather is too rainy, especially if the rind is still soft. Harvest your butternuts early if the weather suddenly becomes too wet and the butternuts start developing fungus.
- The plant is dead. If your butternut plant has died, there’s no reason to leave it on the vine. Butternuts are more at risk of getting affected by the disease when the plant dies. If the plant is infected by disease or attacked by pests, pick your butternuts to prevent them from becoming infected.
How Should You Properly Store Butternut Squash?
Always store butternut squash in a cool, dry place. Just as with pumpkins, you should store butternut squash at around 50°F (10°C). You can cure them at around 80°F (27°C) for a week or two before storing them in a cooler room.
Never store butternut squash in a moist environment as it’ll cause the fruit to rot faster. If you store them properly, butternuts can last for a few months before starting to rot.
There’s nothing like growing a prized butternut crop in your garden. However, picking your butternuts too soon will result in a bitter taste and unripe fruit. Always pick your butternut squashes when they reach their full size and weight.
Ripe butternuts have a deep golden color and weigh between two to three pounds (0.91 to 1.36 kg). The stem around the butternuts becomes brown and dry, indicating the butternut is ready for picking.
There are a few exceptions when you can harvest unripe butternuts to prevent them from getting damaged, such as extreme weather or death.
If you wonder whether you can ripen your butternut squash off the vine, you can read my other article here: Will Butternut Squash Ripen off the Vine?