A frost warning may be in effect in your area this week!
We always left squash in the garden as late in the fall as we could, to get the best growth possible.
While preparing for bed one night, we heard on the radio that a severe frost was expected. So we raced out to the field, using the headlights of our pickup trucks to light our way. We ran through the rows, searching for ripe squash, trying to save as much fruit as we could.
We actually managed to save most of the squash, despite stumbling over each other in the dark. Although it was fun, I generally recommend more conventional harvesting methods.
My grandchildren Kathryn and Michael never need to be forced to help us harvest squash. They love to scavenge under the leaves to discover the fruit hidden beneath—like a treasure hunt. Perhaps the many different shapes and colours of squash are what they find so appealing.
Ready to Harvest
Summer squash should be harvested when it's young and tender, since it tends to lose its rich flavour at maturity. Harvest summer squash regularly to keep the vines producing; I often harvest twice a week. Summer squash doesn't keep well, so eat it as soon as you harvest it.
It's easy to tell when winter squash is ready: if you can't piece the skin with a fingernail, it's time to pick the fruit. You can also harvest it when all the vines have died, or after the first light frost. Cut the vines with a butcher knife, leaving some stem on the fruit. (Without some stem, the fruit won't keep and will quickly rot.)
Winter squash can be stored on a shelf in a cool, dry place, but it should never be stored in an unheated garage or on a cement floor: storing squash here will lead to rot.
Be careful when cutting the tough-skinned winter squashes. Ted uses a cleaver to open squash, since we once broke a knife trying to cut one! After you get to the delicious inner flesh, though, you'll be glad you made the effort. I cook squash by steaming it between two layers of tin foil on a cookie sheet in the oven—it's a lovely treat. Our family eats a lot of squash—we feel it's a vastly underrated vegetable. Ted and I will even eat the skin, if it's been prepared properly.
Zucchini is a summer squash that's finally getting its due. I say bravo! It's about time! Pick zucchini when it's small, young, and tender—it's at its best when it's no more than 20 cm long. When you can pierce the skin easily with your nail, you've got a nice, ripe zucchini.
Commercial growers harvest their zucchini every other day, since this vegetable becomes oversized and inedible quicker than any other. The best size for zucchini is about the same as a small sliving cucumer. In fact, at the wholesale level, zucchini pices plunge as the fruit gets larger—to the point where it beomes completely unsaleable.
My daughter-in-law Valerie likes to cut zucchini lengthwise, into long, thin strips. She adds cheddar, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped green onions, heats it in the oven, and serves. It's a simple and tasty treat that she says "even men can make."
-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer
A frost warning is in effect and we've received a lot of phone calls from people asking about what can stay outside and what needs to come in. Here's our quick guide:
- Apples: A light frost will not affect the apples and may even make them sweeter. Barring a severe September storm, leave your apples on the tree until they are ripe (mid- to late- September for most late bearing apples).
- Beans and Peas: Will not tolerate frost. Harvest these guys and eat them up!
- Beets, Carrots, Onions, Potatoes: Protected underground, these vegetables do fine in a light frost and their flavour may even improve with the cold. That said, harvest them before the ground freezes.
- Chard, Kale, and Cabbage: These plants should all survive a light frost. Cold temperatures will even intensify the colour and flavour of chard, and may sweeten cabbage.
- Corn: Corn is frost sensitive. If your corn is ready, pick it now. If it is not yet ready to harvest, cross your fingers and hope for the best. A hard frost will reduce the shelf life of corn to 3 to 4 days.
- Lettuce and Salad Greens: Cold will affect the look and texture of lettuce and salad greens, but they can survive a light frost. If you’d like, harvest the tops of the lettuce and see if they come back afterwards.
- Tomatoes and Peppers: Harvest any ripe tomatoes and all peppers. Unripe tomatoes are bit more complicated. If you’re feeling cautious and would rather not deal with any stress, harvest them all now—ripe or not.
If you’re feeling daring and if the forecast cooperates for the next day or two, you may be able to get away with bringing the tomato vines close to the house (preferably on the south side of the house) and covering them with some light bed sheets to protect them from the frost.
However, if the forecast dips below -2°C, the tomatoes will probably end up covered in frost anyways even with these precautions. Keep an eye on your local temperature, and harvest the unripe tomatoes if necessary. Green tomatoes can be ripened inside on sheets of newspaper.
- Pumpkins, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers: Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer varieties of pumpkin and squash should be harvested now, wiped dry, and cured in a hot, dry room for a few days to improve shelf life.
Properly cured, they may store for a few weeks. Avoid storing these fruits on concrete or metal surfaces as it can cause them to rot.
Thin skinned cucumbers will not store as well and should be eaten within a few days.
Some pumpkins and squash are "winter varieties" and can store very well if properly cured. Harvest any mature “winter variety” gourds before a frost (they will have a nice tough skin when mature) and do your best to protect the immature ones by covering them with a sheet. Immature gourds will not ripen off the vine or once the vine has died, so protecting them and hoping for the best is the best strategy. Be careful not to crush the vines.