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How Do I Identify Ripe Butternut Squash?

By Caitlynn Lowe
Updated May 16, 2024
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Autumn is the right season to harvest ripe butternut squash. Like other winter squashes, butternut squash should not be consumed prior to ripening since the taste has not developed yet. The color, weight, and texture of the skin all indicate whether or not the squash is ripe.

As it starts growing, the skin of butternut squash has a yellow-green hue. This color turns deeper as the squash matures. A ripe butternut squash has a beige skin with no trace of green. The flesh of a ripe squash should be deep orange.

When selecting a ripe butternut squash, a consumer should pick each squash up and examine it thoroughly. These squashes are heavy when fully mature. Most ripe butternut squashes weigh at least 2 pounds (about 1 kg). Knowledgeable consumers also tap on the squash and listen to the resulting sound. A ripe squash sounds hollow inside, rather than sounding thick or solid.

The texture of the skin also reveals a lot about whether or not the squash has fully matured. An individual should attempt to press his or her thumbnail into the skin of the squash prior to selecting it. Ripe butternut squash has tough skin that does not break under the pressure of an individual's thumbnail. The skin of a mature squash also appears dull, while an unripened squash has shiny skin.

Ripe butternut squashes have a sweet, vaguely nutty taste comparable to the taste of pumpkins or sweet potatoes. Their taste makes them suitable for use in everything from soups to breads. Unripe squash is relatively bland and tasteless in comparison.

Many varieties of butternut squash take between four and five months to ripen after the seeds are planted. Gardeners and farmers typically plant butternut squashes in spring and harvest them in the middle of autumn, usually around late September or early October. If harvested before this time, the squashes are less likely to be completely ripe. Butternut squashes should also be harvested before any heavy frosts occur since frosts can prevent squash from ripening. If frost comes a couple weeks early, butternut squashes can be brought inside and ripened indoors.

When ripening indoors, the farmer cuts the squash from the vine and wipes it down to reduce the risk of mold. He or she then places the unripened squash in a warm, sunny location and turns it periodically to ensure that all sides have access to the sunlight. This process only works if the squash simply needs to finish ripening for a few days, however. Individuals should not attempt indoor ripening before the butternut squash develops its trademark bell-shape and grows to its full size and weight.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002074 — On Aug 29, 2019

I have a few volunteer butternut squash growing from my compost pile. Some are a normal light cream color, while others are green -- almost like zucchini-shaped like butternut squash. I'm not sure how to tell when they are ready to harvest?

By literally45 — On Oct 26, 2013

@ddljohn-- Technically, the vine shows whether the squash is ripe enough to harvest or not. If the vine is green and alive, it's not ripe enough yet. If it's brown and dry, it's ripe and ready to harvest.

I personally follow the 95 day rule. I wait 95 days after I plant them to harvest them. That's how long it takes for butternut squash to ripen.

By ddljohn — On Oct 25, 2013

@SarahGen-- I'd say harvest them now, if something is trying to eat them.

Most people say that butternut squash doesn't ripen after it is taken off the vine. I disagree. If it's close to harvest time, (a week or two), they can still ripen after they're picked. I've harvested butternut squash that was mostly green and it still turned a tan color. I just had to leave it in a dry place with plenty of sunlight.

Obviously, if the conditions are right, it's better to let them ripen all the way because this does affect the taste. But if the first frost is coming up soon or if there are predators, you're better off harvesting them.

By SarahGen — On Oct 25, 2013

My butternut squash have a tan color but there are still some green streaks in them. Can I harvest now or should I wait another week? I kind of want to harvest them now because I think something is munching on the leaves.

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