by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I have a confession to make: I really can be quite lazy about my garden and putting up the produce. If I can find an easier way, I'm there. So, keeping that in mind, one of my favorite crops is winter squash. Just stick some seeds in the ground in early summer, and then cut the fruit from the vines just before freezing weather sets in. No canning, no freezing, no cutting up to dehydrate - winter squash, once cured, provide us a variety of wonderful meals all winter long.
With the newer bush varieties, winter squash will fit in just about every garden, with fruit-sizes to match any family's needs. If you ask me, you can never have too many winter squash tucked away in your winter storage. They'll take to just about any seasoning, savory or sweet or even none at all, and will fit into just about every part of your menu - from soup to baked goods to side dishes, main course to dessert. Plus, winter squash are so beautiful - I often use them as part of my autumn decor before storing them away.
Winter squash are ready to harvest when a fingernail can't penetrate the skin (be gentle when testing them this way - if you do puncture one, use it first as it won't keep as long). I cut each off the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem (if the stem breaks off, those will be the first used; and don't carry winter squash by their stems - they're not strong enough to bear the weight). Rolled over and left out in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, the underside dries out and the cut stem starts to callus over. I also remove any bits of blossom still clinging to the end.
Winter storage squash need to cure in a warm, airy place - to harden their shells completely before storing for the winter. In early fall, I'll often load up the mesh wagon, and put the whole bunch into the garage (along with the onions - both need the same warmth and air circulation to cure). The dark garage warms up during the day, and then holds the heat quite well overnight. If the weather turns really cold too soon, I'll bring the squash into the living room near the wood stove for a week or two just to make sure they'll keep well. After curing, winter squash store best in a cool, but not cold, and dry environment. Into the winter, my cellar will get too cold and damp for squash. A couple of crates on the floor, in the far corner of our bedroom in our wood-stove heated house, works best (a plank over the top crate turns my storage spot into a nice little side table).