It's hard to say what's the greater pleasure, watching winter squash ripen on the vine or watching zucchini wither away. Forward-looking gardeners may have already pulled out overly prolific summer squashes and filled the space with cool-season crops — broccoli and beets, cabbage and carrots, greens for salads and stir-fry, peas, cauliflower, turnips. The list goes on.
September becomes a turning point in a gardener's life as we wrap up preserving summer's bounty and anticipate late harvests. There are still a few veggies along with apples and some pears for storing, drying or canning, but the main focus is on facing the new season.
When space seems too limited for a wide variety of cool-season crops, consider the option of pulling out a tomato vine or two besides a zucchini.
Leave your favorite heirlooms that often come into full production this late in the season, but ask yourself how many tomatoes you will realistically use and whether the space they're filling might better be planted with late fall and winter crops, many of which will continue to feed you until spring.
In most gardens, winter squash should be left alone for a few weeks yet. They grow much as pumpkins do but develop more slowly as they form harder skins and aren't fully ripe for another few weeks in most of our microclimate zones.
There are exceptions, of course. Gardeners in hot interior valleys that warm up earlier in spring are able to plant before ground in the rest of the North Coast is ready for summer crops. In these warmer areas, hard-skinned squashes may have already matured.
Ridged acorn types, orangish tan butternut, and yellow spaghetti squash are often ready before Hubbard and turban-types.
Ready for harvest
Winter squashes are among the most colorful vegetables to grace our tables and gardens, but their rich color is only one sign of ripeness. Rinds should be hard enough to resist a nick with a fingernail.