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MASTER GARDENERS: Harvest pumpkins, squash before first hard frost

As we finish harvesting our garden produce, our planting of winter squash and pumpkins is bearing fruit that will be enjoyed for several months.

Winter squash comes in many varieties: acorn, butternut, buttercup, kabocha, Hubbard, delicata, red kuri, Moorgold and spaghetti squash are names of some popular squashes.

Pumpkins come in several varieties as well, for both eating and decoration. They come in several colors, shapes and sizes from miniature to giant.

To harvest your squash and pumpkins, be sure to do so before the first hard frost of the year. A light frost may kill the vine but not ruin the squash itself. When removing the squash from the vine, leave a few inches of vine and be careful not to cut or bruise the fruit. They should then be cured in a warm place for a week or to allow the skin or rind to dry and harden before being moved to longer term storage. Squash keeps well in a place about 55 degrees and with humidity between 50 to 75 percent. They should be checked periodically for discoloration and rotting.

If you buy your squash or pumpkins in the supermarket, select evenly colored specimens, with firm skin rinds and well dried stems to ensure ripeness. Use them within a week or so or store them as stated earlier in this article.  

Winter squash has excellent nutritional value, rich in Vitamin A (beta-carotene), dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), and potassium as well as fiber. If it is eaten without added fat or salt, it is naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium. Spaghetti squash is a low carbohydrate alternative for noodles.

Squash and pumpkin can both be cooked and frozen for later use. Canning is not recommended for pumpkin and squash. Frozen squash can be used in soups, pies and quick breads.

I hope this article may inspire someone to try their hand at growing pumpkins or winter squash next year. More information for growing vegetables can be found at the University of Minnesota Extension web site at  http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/.

To seek local assistance, call (218) 444-7916; leave your name, number, and question and a Master Gardener will respond.

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