Saturday, February 20, 2021

Winter Squash


Winter squash is one of the most un-loved and under-appreciated vegetables in the modern garden.

We have not been able to give away our abundant harvests. The people we attempt to "gift" the produce to look at us with a quizical expression and ask "What do you expect me to do with this?"

Pumpkins, ornamental corn, fruit....they will take by the hundred-weight. Squash? Not so much.

If things go in the pot regarding food security

Winter squash should be on your short-list of foods to grow for several reasons.

Food security might hit urban areas harder than rural areas. Urban areas are often shady. No light; no food. Squash grow on vines and vines can be trained to grow upward, into the light.

Squash have large seeds that germinate and grow aggressively IF the temperatures are warm. Said another way, it will be easy to figure out which seedlings are squash and which are weeds.

Squash seeds are easy to obtain. Every squash is full of them and they are the easiest seeds to save. Just dry them and save them until needed. Yes, some squash seen in stores are hybrids but there is a 99.99% that the squash produced from their seedlings will be edible. This could be a very big deal this year as commercial seed companies sell-out or close their doors to their non-commercial customers.

Immature squash can be harvested and eaten.

Most winter squash is packed with Vitamin A. If we go into total economic free-fall, government agencies will probably be almost adequate at supplying enough calories. Don't count on niceties like vitamins. Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness world-wide and it usually occurs in refugee-camp type environments. Vitamin A is fat-soluble so you can eat excess amounts in the fall and your body will store it all year.

Winter squash can provide a break from food-fatigue. The blossoms are edible and most of the blossoms are male so they can be eaten without impacting your crop. The seeds are delicious after toasting and salting.

Types of winter squash

Unlike many garden plants, multiple species fall into the category "winter squash".

The advantage of multiple species is that they will not cross pollinate so you can save seeds from several lines of squash and do not need to worry about keeping them isolated.

Cucurbita pepo

Acorn squash, Delicata, most pumpkins. Most "bush" squash are pepo. In general, pepo are sweeter-less-starchy and have shorter storage life than the others. Seeds run smaller.

A very small number of pumpkin varieties are good winter squash. Winter Luxury and all of the "African Pumpkins".  In Africa "pumpkin" is the general term for edible squash while in North America it is nearly always applied to ornamental, orange shells that are 97% water.

Cucurbita maxima

Buttercup, Hubbard, Candy-roaster, Jumbo Banana are examples of maxima. Squash vary in size from large to stupendous. Vines are often rampant growers. Seeds are large. Flesh tend more toward starchy/filling. Disclosure, I like maxima best for table fare.

Cucurbita moschata

Butternut, "Cheese", Trombonchino and Dickinson (the variety used to make the canned 'pumpkin' used in pies) are moschata. These varieties are touted as being very adaptable to environmental stresses like drought, heat, challenges by insects and eye-popping yields. They are also the champs regarding storage life. The downside is that the flesh often resembles orange wax with little carbohydrates and minimal flavor.

Butternut is my mother's favorite squash because the ratio of edible-to-seed cavity is high.

As with all gardening posts, I am looking forward to comments from readers to correct my mistakes and to add experiences from a wide range of growing conditions


  1. When I was in college I had neighbors who went on a vacation to the West Coast for a month. When they got back they discovered the zucchini squash in their backyard garden had grown to a size way beyond what was considered to be good eating, over a foot long and 6-8" in diameter. They were going to just pick them and throw them out, but I convinced them to just let me have them. Being a starving college student, I figured even mutant squash was better than nothing.

    Next day I picked a squash, cut it in half lengthwise, cleaned out the seeds & strings, filled the halves with my Mom's stuffed green pepper filling, and baked. They were delicious! When I served it to my neighbors whose squash it was, they were amazed, and they started doing likewise. They and I ate stuffed baked zucchini for weeks afterwards.

  2. I have always grown butternut squash, and the 3-4 seeds that grow will provide me 20-30 squash, which I will eat for the next 9-10 months. If they are fully mature and cured before putting in storage, I have had butternut squash last a full 12 months stored in my basement. They do get drier the longer they are in storage, and I do check them periodically to make sure none have started to rot. If they start to get soft, I feed them to the chickens.

    In 2019, I was not able to plant the butternut as soon as I would have liked in the spring, and when frost came in the fall, a number of the butternut were not fully mature. That was the worst year for storing the butternut, many of them rotted in storage.

    When harvesting butternut, they should have no green in their appearance. You should not be able to push your fingernail into the squash when they are mature. Do not let them get frosted. Either cover them or harvest them if frost is expected. Leave some stem attached to the squash when harvesting ( I use hand pruners to cut them from the vine). I usually store them in a wagon in my garage for a few weeks before moving them to the basement.

    1. 2020 was the first year I had squash bugs. Spaghetti squash, melons and cucumbers were hard hit. Butternut squash were not damaged at all.

      I bought some insect netting/remay, I'm going to try covering the spaghetti squash this year. Not going to bother with melons.

  3. We prefer Delicata and Butternut. Non bush varieties -- trailing plants that run into my corn bed. Even though they're thinner skinned my Delicatas keep longer than the Butternuts which keep longer than my Acorns. We usually cut them in half and bake them until they're nicely browned and they're the sweetest tasting things.

    When in doubt over using a large, stronger tasting winter squash, cut it into cubes, boil it and mash it and add it to a big pot of soup as a nutritious and tasty thickener.

    In hard times as well as good times, the more varied the diet the better the chance of good nutrition and a good selection of winter vegetables including squashes is the ticket to surviving and thriving.

  4. The only Squashes I like are the Early Summer Crookneck Squash and Zucchini, either fresh cut into a salad, or steamed and Zucchini fried. I'll tolerate Pumpkin, but don't particularly like the other varieties of Squash.

    Right after high school in the late 70's, we had a pig pen at one end of our garden plot by the creek. We fed the hogs slop from the kitchen as well as manufacturered hog feed. The slips contained the skin and seeds of various vegetables Mom prepared for dinner.

    After we had the hogs slaughtered, Dad wanted the pig pen torn down, which we did. We used an old chest freezer to store the feed and had to move it also. Being wary of snakes, we had a shotgun with us. When we turned the freezer over, all we found was a huge rat that had been feeding on dropped feed and whatever else it could steal from the hogs. That rat was so huge and fat, it could hardly move. ( A 20 gauge from about 10 feet will tear huge hole in a rat sized animal from that close.)

    Anyway, the point of the story is, the following year, we had "volunteer" vegetables growing in the area of the old pig pen and at pickin' time, if we didn't check every day, the "fruit" would seem to grow overnight to unimaginable size. Cucumber 15+ inches long, Zucchini up to 3 feet long and Acorn Squash as big as watermelons.

    Pig manure makes strong fertilizer and perhaps we should have spread it out over the rest of the garden, but then we would have had Squash and Chicks growing amongst the Corn, Taters and Beans.

  5. I like to cook. I don't follow any recipes except the ones that I have made up myself. All of my recipes are simple and quick to make. I make vegetable soup and include squash and cabbage to the usual ingredients. I think I will make some soup today.

  6. I'm good with Zucchini, not so much with other squash. Ate too many of them growing up.

  7. Squash is all that and more, but absolutely frost INtolerant, and needs a lot of frost free days to mature fruit. I have up to 90 frost free days in a good season, so this year I'll try Golden Nugget squash. Maybe I can get that to mature.

  8. The African variety of 'pumpkin' is grown throughout the Caribbean and is a staple part of the diet - it looks like a medium sized, squashed-down Halloween pumpkin, except that it's a pale orange color closer to butternut squash in hue. It goes into Callaloo, stewed beef, stewed chicken, lots of different pot dishes.

  9. I plant Hubbard Squash every year. We really like it, it does well here and it keeps really well. Last year was the worse gardening year I ever experienced and many things did not fully mature including the squash. Yesterday I threw the last two into the wood burning furnace as they did not keep well not being mature. Usually they last into March. Hopefully this summer will be better as I think we all might really need those gardens. ---ken

  10. Here in the copper basin, Alaska I grow my zucchini in a hoop house through ground cover and have no trouble getting all the zucchini and similar we can eat and share and occasionally the hens get a few. I think I have managed to get a handful of bush type 85 day winter squash over the years. Wish I could grow more.

    1. Howard, what kinds have you had success with? I'm a hundred or so miles north of you, in Delta.

  11. Started my soup to cooking. We had some BBQ beef ribs left over from last night. I shredded the meat up and added cabbage, carrots, squash, onions, kidney beans, potatoes, stewed tomatoes, and black pepper. It is cooking now.

  12. We love the Australian blue pumpkins for flavor and with a low moisture content they don’t require cooking down to turn into pumpkin pie filling. Favorite varieties are the jarrahdale and the triamble.
    Like ERJ we can’t give winter squash away, ... it mystifies me.

  13. I read about a school class assignment for each student to bring one pot -- saucepan with lid. Half the class didn't have such a thing in the house. My guess is if it doesn't come in a prepackaged microwavable tray, it isn't food.

  14. One place where I worked, happened to be in Iowa, they had a 'chili dump'. Everyone who wanted to brought in a pot of homemade chili. We all dumped them into a large roaster. There were 20 different recipes mixed all together. One guy said that his recipe contained red wine. It tasted better than any chili I had ever tasted. That was some GOOD chili !

    1. P.S.- My soup/stew turned out excellent. New recipe !

  15. Grew winter squash for the first time in 2020... Buttercup and Waltham butternut.
    Wife & I prefer buttercup, but all 4 of our adult children prefer butternut. Will be growing 10-12 different 'winter squash' varieties in 2021.
    Sandhill Preservation offers a huge selection of squash and other heirloom vegetable seeds.

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  17. Man, I love to come here and read. You are always poking holes in my garden plan.

    Regards, Milt.

    p.s. In this instance "you" is defined to be Eaton Rapids Joe and his commenters. Thanks. I am gonna try that soup, almost just as is.

  18. Red Kuri and Marina di Chioggia consistently hot high marks on a gardening/orcharding forum I frequent. Trialing both here, this year, along with several others.

    We like buttercup roasted,with a bit of EVOO, sprinkled with a sweet & savory spice mix. Butternut, peeled & cubed in a mixed veggie roast, with onions, peppers, yellow&zucchini squash, all tossed with Italian dressing, and a pound of browned ground beef mixed in about halfway through cooking.

  19. Baked with butter and maple syrup inside ... makes just about any squash more than just edible.


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