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Harvesting the Cucurbits

At this time of the season, you are probably getting close to harvesting members of the squash family. The cucurbits/squash family includes butternut, acorn, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkins/gourds. Last week, we had the last Late Summer Field Day for the year at Freeport High School in Freeport. At the farm, their cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, watermelon, and winter squash were all coming in and there were lots of questions about when to harvest them.

Harvesting these crops can be tricky as they can be hard to tell when they are ready. Watermelon can look ready when it really isn't. The same can be said about many of these crops too. Unlike a tomato where I can see the color and know it can be harvested, melons, squash, and pumpkins are tricky.

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.

So let's get into harvesting these.

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. You can see in the below photo what the tendril looks like. 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. Looking for cucumber beetles is also something that I do when I'm picking watermelon at a roadside stand or a farmers market. The damage will look like scratches or black dots. There is a phone app for picking watermelons that works fairly well too. I've used it previously when growing a lot of watermelons and the accuracy is pretty good. It uses the microphone in your phone and requires you to thumb the melon.

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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. You should hold the cantaloupe and then slightly pull it off the vine. It will be ready if it comes off without much force.

Spaghetti squash should be harvested when the squash is yellow and orange in color. If it is too dark orange, it may be potentially overripe. 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. Some people will wait until the vine dies completely before picking all the winter squash off. It's also

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.