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.
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.
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.
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