“There’s a pretty one, perfect size to it, perfect shape, got that little bit of orange…” Deana Haines.

 Deana is describing the acorn squash she grew this year for the Organic Growers Group. In our corresponding video, we join Deana Haines in Scott County Virginia. Deana grew acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash for Appalachian Harvest and it’s time for her to harvest.

The perfect acorn squash will be 4.5 to 7” in diameter, 4.5 to 6” in length and should weigh between 1 ¾ and 3 ¼ pounds. It will be ripened on the field, well matured and free from any damage by dirt, freezing, scars, dry rot, insects and mechanical or other means.

Before we talk about best harvesting practices, we need to talk about USDA grading. These are standards that identify your product based on maturity, shape, size, weight, and damage. Here is the link to the USDA webpage about grades and standards. At the bottom of the page, you will find countless vegetables and their grading standards. For winter squash, the grading is as follows…

U.S. No. 1 consists of squash or pumpkins which meet the following requirements:

Basic requirements:

  1. Similar varietal characteristics;
  2. Well matured; and,

iii. Not broken or cracked.

  1. Free from: Soft rot or wet breakdown.
  2. Free from damage by:
  3. Scars;
  4. Dry rot;

iii. Freezing;

  1. Dirt;
  2. Disease;
  3. Insects; and,

vii. Mechanical or other means.

U.S. No. 2 consists of squash or pumpkins which meet the following requirements:

  1. Basic requirements:
  2. Similar varietal characteristics;
  3. Fairly well matured; and,

iii. Not broken or cracked.

  1. Free from: Soft rot or wet breakdown.
  2. Free from serious damage by:
  3. Scars;
  4. Dry rot;

iii. Freezing;

  1. Dirt;
  2. Disease;
  3. Insects; and,

vii. Mechanical or other means.

A graded number 2 won’t be able to sell to Wholesale markets but are great for selling at farmers markets, donating to food banks, or selling to a value added producer. Anything worse than a number 2 would be considered a number 3, and is perfect for your compost or animal feed. We will discuss more about grading in our next episode/blog, as well as a future video series aimed at reducing risks for farmers.

Understanding these grading standards should help you determine what to harvest in the field. For Deana and her acorn, that meant harvesting when her squash were fully matured. You will be able to tell since they will have an orange spot on them no bigger than a half dollar, a firm stem, and will be free of any disease and will have no or little damage. It will be 4.5 to 7” in diameter, 4.5 to 6” in length and should weigh between 1 ¾ to 3 ¼ pounds.

We saw that Deana will still harvest some that aren’t fully matured, have a little damage and those that weren’t pollinated evenly as a number 2.

For those acorn squash that grew directly on your black plastic, they won’t have an orange spot on them. These would still be considered a number 1 if it meets all the other criteria. If your acorn squash has a light green spot, it means that it isn’t fully mature and would be a number 2.

Here you can see two acorn squash. The one on the left is not fully mature and would be considered a number 2. The one on the right is fully mature and would be considered a number 1.

Once harvested, the stem should be cut to about an inch. You will not only meet grading standards for a number 1 with a cut stem, but you will also be protecting yourself from turning a number 1, into a number 2.

This is because if your stems are not cut until you grade, you risk the chance of your acorn scraping each other and causing damage. It’s good practice to just cut the stem in the field when you harvest them.

To harvest them, Deana uses a hand pruner to cut the stems and sets them gently in a green RPC (reusable plastic container).

Deana’s acorn squash are beautiful and very few of them that she harvested ended up being a number 2. Her delicatas and spaghetti squash didn’t do so well; Downey Mildew unfortunately compromised them.We talked about in our previous episode/blog that Organic spraying is mainly preventative. When Deana discovered her plants had developed Mildew, it was already too late.

Most of the delicatas and almost all of the spaghetti squash would at best be a number 2. Deana ended up leaving most of them in the field. Some of them she will pick later and just eat herself.

Once Deana has filled up her green RPC, she moves over to the shade and gently places her harvested squash into larger containers in the back of her pickup. She will take this over to Appalachian Harvest to wash, grade and package. That is exactly where we will start off in our next episode/blog.

Derrick Von Kundra