By Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension
At this time of the season, you are getting close to harvesting members of the squash family. The squash family includes butternut, acorn, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkins/gourds. Many people get confused as to when to harvest these as you can harvest them too early or late. These recommendations for telling when to harvest crops are general. You may be growing a unique variety that has different color and shape that may not fit within these guidelines. You also can sometimes harvest a test fruit that you think is ready before harvesting all that you are growing. This ensures that you are harvesting at the right time.
Watermelon can be picked when the tendril closest to where the watermelon meets the vine is brown. A tendril is a tiny growth of the vine. The “thumping” method is not always reliable. You can also look for a creamy, white bottom where the watermelon laid on the ground. Sometimes I look for cucumber beetle damage as this can be an additional sign that the watermelon is ready. Cantaloupe is ready when the net like skin is tan, the fruit easily comes off the vine, and it smells like cantaloupe at the end of the fruit.
Spaghetti squash should be harvested when the squash is yellow and orange in color. The squash should not have any green color. You can place a fingernail into the squash to see if it punctures as it shouldn’t do this if the squash is mature.
For pumpkins and gourds, harvest them based on their color and shape. It should be uniform in color as well. Like spaghetti squash, use a fingernail to see if you can put a dent in it. The stem of the pumpkins should be very dry and hard.
Winter squash such as butternut and acorn can be picked when their stem has dried/brown, uniform color, and do not puncture with a fingernail.
By keeping these harvest tips in mind, it will ensure that you can eat the summer crops now and store the other ones for this fall.