As the skins begin to turn colour, it is tempting to harvest winter squash and pumpkins as soon as possible, but it is so worth waiting until they are fully ripened. This is usually in October, and if you harvest too early, in September, you may find that the fruits are watery and tasteless when you cook them. Here are the three signs to look for:
- The skin has FULLY changed colour – depending on the variety, the skin colour will change as it reaches maturity. You can expect Uchiki Kuri, Jack O’Lantern and Hundredweight to turn to their deep orange. Queensland Blue will take on a blue-green tint and whiter varieties may start to develop green streaks.
- The stalk has dried out and hardened – this is a good indicator that they are ready. The stalk at the top of the squash/pumpkin will look woody rather than green (you can see the stalk in the right hand squash in the photo above is mid-process of hardening). You can expect that the leaves will be turning yellow/brown and beginning to die back quite rapidly as well.
- The skin has hardened – once the skin has changed colour it will begin to harden. If the stalks have already begun to dry out as above, then try pushing a thumbnail into the skin of the pumpkin/squash. If it makes no dent or a light dent but doesn’t pierce the skin, then it is ripe. The harder the skin, the better it will store and the better it will taste.
If the plants start to die off before they are fully ripe, or if the pumpkin/squash breaks away from its stalk, then don’t worry – you can keep the fruits in a warm, dry room in the house to continue ripening.