Ready to grow some winter squash? Winter squash is a great vegetable for the home gardener and chef. There are a number of excellent varieties of winter squash available, each with unique flavors and uses. A wonderful feature of winter squash is that once they are harvested in the fall, they can be stored for several months for use throughout the winter.
Winter squash, gourds, and pumpkins are members of the genus Cucurbita. Winter squash can be found as vining, semi-vining, and bush varieties. Summer squash are similar in form to winter squash, but winter squash generally have harder rinds and seeds, and are harvested when they reach full maturity.
The domestication of winter squash began with the native populations of the Americas.
Research into the history of the use of squash reveals that their cultivation began in South America and the seeds eventually made their way to native populations in North America. With the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, squash seeds were quickly utilized by these newcomers in their own gardens.
Through the distribution and sharing of seeds by these early settlers, winter squash was soon growing in gardens throughout the world. Winter squash, gourds, and pumpkins are members of the genus Cucurbita. Winter squash can be found as vining, semi-vining, and bush varieties. Summer squash are similar in form to winter squash, but winter squash generally have harder rinds and seeds, and are harvested when they reach full maturity.
Winter Squash Varieties
Some of the most common winter squash for the home garden are butternut, acorn, delicata, buttercup, hubbard, true winter squashes, and spaghetti squash. Some cultivars of pumpkins are also considered winter squash, such as the Japanese Pumpkin, or Kabocha.
Winter squash is high in fiber, vitamin A and beta carotene, and is thought to be a food that naturally helps lower blood pressure. Healthy and delicious!
Butternut (C. Mopshata) is a wonderfully rich squash, typically with a hard tan rind. It is ready to harvest in about 80 to 100 days.
- Butterbush will take up less space in your garden and gives small fruit, around 2 pounds.
- Ultra produces a large fruit, up to 10 pounds.
- Supreme has a very sweet flavor.
Acorn squash (C. Pepo) is a deliciously sweet squash that usually has a green rind and a light orange flesh. It takes around 80 days to harvest.
- Ebony has a darker rind than most varieties.
- Table Gold is a compact plant suitable for small gardens.
- Cream of the Crop has very smooth and sweet flesh.
- Table Queen is a standard sized acorn squash.
Delicata squash (C. Pepo), is a smaller, elongated squash with a sweet flesh. Delicata also goes by the name of “Sweet Potato Squash.”
- Sweet Dumpling is a slightly flattened version of the Delicata.
- Sugar Loaf is very sweet and oval shaped.
- Honey Boat is shaped like the typical Delicata but has a very sweet flavor.
True Winter Squashes (C. Maxima) are available in numerous tasty varieties. True winter squash can be small, like Gold Nugget (at 2 pounds), or quite large, like Banana squash, which can grow up to 30 pounds. There are also several bush types for the gardener with limited space.
- Buttercup is a sweet squash that grows to about 4 pounds.
- Emerald Bush Buttercup is a bush type variety of the Buttercup squash.
- Gold Nugget is one of the smaller varieties of true winter squash. It maxs out at around 2 pounds. It is a bush type squash for it’s appropriate for gardeners with limited space.
- Banana are long, thin squash that can grow up to 30 pounds. They vary in color from pink to grey.
- Hubbard squashes, such as Golden Hubbard, and Chicago Hubbard are large squash with a bumpy rind. They can grow up to 25 pounds.
- Red Kuri is an unusual squash with an orange rind and flesh. It is small, about 3 pounds when mature.
- Honey Delight is a hybrid that is similar to the Buttercup. It will grow to around 4 pounds.
Spaghetti Squash (C. Pepo) have a stringy, spaghetti-like interior that is lightly sweet and tastes great accompanied with spaghetti sauce.
- Pasta is a delicious variety with a creamy yellow flesh.
- Tivoli is a bush type squash suitable for smaller gardens. The fruits will grow to around 4 pounds when mature.
- Orangetti is a semi-bush variety with orange flesh.
Before you plant your winter squash, you should test your soil pH and temperature. Soil temperatures should be about 70 degrees, and a soil pH of around 6.5 is recommended. For best results, you should test your soil with an electronic soil tester. An electronic soil tester can easily analyze both soil pH and temperature:
Winter squash need well-draining soil with lots of organic material mixed in. Organic compost mixed into your soil will ensure healthy, well-draining soil. This website is an excellent resource for learning how to compost in your backyard:
Also, consider purchasing a high quality composting bin for your home to improve the quality of your compost.
A good organic fertilizer can also give your winter squash an added advantage.
Squash Planting Tips
To grow winter squash, it’s important to first select one that is appropriate for the size of your garden, as many winter squash like to sprawl out and need plenty of space. Vining squash require a large garden, while semi-vining and bush varieties of winter squash are appropriate for smaller gardens.
To grow winter squash in the home garden, you can grow them either in rows or in hills. To grow winter squash in rows, plant the seeds about two and a half feet apart in rows that are spaced at least two feet apart. For hills, heap up your soil into a small, rounded hill.
If you are planning on growing a large number or squash and have the space, you should space vining squash about seven feet between hills, with the hills being about 60 feet in size. You can plant about six seeds on each hill, ¾ of an inch deep. Allow about ten feet between rows. Plant about seven seeds and as the plants start growing, you can eliminate all but the healthiest three plants.
For bush and semi-vining squash, plant your seeds about one inch deep, three to four seeds per hill. Allow at least six feet between rows. For semi-vining varieties, remove all but the healthiest two to three squash plants. For bush squash, you should keep only one plant per hill.
Timing is very important when your plant your winter squash as they are a warm season crop. Squash require warm soil to germinate and even a light frost can damage the seedlings. Plant your seeds after the last frost and test your soil temperature, which should be at least be 70 degrees F before you plant. Once again, you should consider purchasing an electronic soil tester so that you make no mistakes when planting squash or other tender vegetables.
Winter squashes grow best in soil that doesn’t stay too wet, so infrequent watering is recommended. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose are excellent ways to water your squash and ensure that they get a good deep watering each time. Drip irrigation will also keep the foliage dry and help to avoid many common diseases. Powdery mildew is a common disease that may appear if your winter squashes’ leaves stay too wet. As the winter squash fruit starts to mature, you can reduce watering.
Weeding is critical for growing healthy squash, especially when they’re young. Pest and common diseases often breed in weeds and garden litter, so clean up your garden frequently. A good weeder or cultivator will ensure healthy squash plants in your garden.
Once your plants begin to product fruit, you can begin to train and cut back the vine so that your winter squash produce more fruits. You can trim back the vines when at least two squash are present. Remove the newest vine growth within about ten inches of where the last fruit appears on the vine.
We don’t recommend the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on your organic squash for several reasons. In the first place, squash mostly require healthy soil to grow well. If you want to fertilize, consider using an organic fertilizer or a compost tea. Additionally, insecticides may kill the bees that squash need to fertilize the flowers and produce fruit.
There are plenty of organic fertilizers available that will grow excellent, healthy plants and not threaten bees and other beneficial insects in your garden.
Winter squash suffer from several common problems. If left untreated, these problems can affect the quality of your winter squash. The following is a list of the most common problems associated with winter squash and how to deal with them:
Gummy Stem Blight (Black Rot): This is a fungal disease that can affect the stems and leaves of your winter squash. It can also spread to the fruits. Solution: Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation and give your plants plenty of space.
Downy mildew: This disease attacks most of the plants among the cucurbits. It is caused by the fungus Pseudoperonospora cubensis. If temperatures are cooler and conditions are moist in your region, your squash plants may be at risk. Early signs are yellowing spots on the leaves that may turn brown and fuzzy with time. As the disease progresses, the patches will turn black.Solution: Give your squash plenty of room to breathe so that air can circulate. Use a compost tea if you expect long periods of cold, wet weather. Ask you nursery about disease-resistant varieties of winter squash.
Powdery Mildew: Look for a white mold on the leaves of your squash plants. This disease is caused by several different kinds of fungi and will eventually kill the foliage and can affect squash fruit. Powdery mildew occurs in warm rather than cold conditions and high moisture levels will make the problem worse.
Solution: Keep your squash foliage dry. Drip irrigation can help. Compost teas also help to treat this problem. Another organic solution is to apply a mixture of baking soda and water to the foliage (less than an ounce of baking soda per gallon of water). Remove garden debris after you harvest all garden plants.
Cucumber beetles: Cucumber beetles affect many plants of the cucurbits. They can attack at any point in the growing season. Look for these pests on the fruits and on the vines.
Solution: To treat your winter squash organically, use thick organic mulch, which can keep these pests from laying their eggs. Plastic mulches can also deter their presence. It’s also important to remove garden debris during and after the growing season.
Squash bugs: Squash bugs are a common problem for cucurbits. The can be a problem throughout the growing season and they can affect both fruits and foliage.
Solution: Companion planting is an effective solution to squash bugs. Mint, catnip, nasturtiums, and marigolds are excellent companion plants that help repel squash bugs. You can also remove squash bugs by hand. Another unusual option is to encourage the presence of the parasitic wasp Ooencyrtus (spp.) in your garden.