The sun feels so warm against my face as I work in the garden and it feels so lovely. But the sharp breeze and the chill in the shade quickly reminds me winter isn’t all that far way. Normally I fight this seasonal change kicking and screaming from a state of denial. Not this year. I just want to put this whole sorry affair behind me and spend the winter making plans and doing projects so next season is better than ever.
But it isn’t just the weather that reminds me we are at the end of something. There are very few crops left in the garden and every time I step into the garden it feels like I’m undoing things rather than planting and sowing and all those exciting things. And of course the pumpkins are so much a part of this season they are an icon for all things autumn.
So with a golden glow from a weakening sun shining across my garden the butternut squash are highlighted with their own shade of golden orange in a way that begs to be harvested. However these are a crop that wants to be stored and savoured over the winter months so you can’t just pull it out as you would pluck a ripe tomato, or twist off a plump cucumber, or hack at a zucchini with a sharp knife.
In order to ensure the storage keeping properties of these delightful squash, you need to take a bit of care. You can tell they are ready for harvest when the skin has an even golden tone without a trace of green and the leaves will have died back to a crisp.
Then, with clean, sharp secateurs you need to cut the stalk as far from the butternut as you can. This is so the squash can seal its end like a cap on a bottle to ensure disease and rot doesn’t set in through this key entryway where nutrients have passed all summer. If the stalk is still green, then the risk of rot at this point is much higher.
While the surface may gleam like treasures in a barren field, the part in direct contact with the soil isn’t so pretty. The underside will be positively mucky with the dirt it rested on stuck to it. This needs to be removed before storing or it will become a moist entry point for a rotten situation. A quick wash in a mild bleach solution will remove any residual pests, disease, spores and other harmful things that see the butternut as their next meal, not yours.
Leave to dry in a nice sunny spot for a couple of weeks. Then turn them over and leave them for another couple of weeks. This not only well and truly dries them out, but cures the skins so they store well and finishes any last minute ripening so the flavour will be rich and amazing.
After this you can store them in a cool, dark place where rodents won’t be able to eat them before you do. Check them often to make sure they don’t come to the end of their life and rot right there on the shelf.
And with my butternut pumpkins tucked up safe in the greenhouse, the march of the season moves us closer to winter.
Come again soon – I’m sure there are things I can put back into the garden.
Sarah the Gardener : o)