Winter Squash (Part III): Tips, Tricks, and Myths
Alright, here we are at the third, and final, segment of the Winter Squash Series! Calling it that makes me feel like an announcer for the vegetable Olympics, and if that were the case then this is the segment where we go over training regimens and uncover any doping methods. What exactly am I talking about? Well, read on.
Squash can be sown directly into the garden soil or transplanted from seed flats. To figure out what you should do, check out your local weather history to determine when you have your last frost in the spring, and your first frost in the fall.
You’ll want to harvest your winter squash soon after the first frost in fall, so count back the days to figure out when you need to sow your seeds. If this gives you a date that is later than the last spring frost, go ahead and sow your seeds directly into your garden when the time comes. If your calculated sowing date is earlier than the last spring frost in your area, sow your seeds indoors and transplant them out when the risk of frost has passed.
Sow your seeds about 4-6 weeks before your transplant date/last frost date in seed flats or pots. Make sure that your plants have adequate room to grow in this time by sowing into flats that are at least 2 inches across.
Once your squash is in the ground and growing, pay attention to weeds and watering. Weekly watering of roughly 1” should be sufficient, but adjust up if you are seeing lots of wilt-y leaves or any browning of the leaf edge. Heads up, an inch of water for the plant looks more like 6 inches of water to the person watering.
Tip: Try mulching with hay or wood chips to keep the weed pressure down and the soil moisture up before your plants get big.
Pests & Diseases:
Common Insect Pests: Cucumber beetles (striped and spotted), squash bugs, vine borers
Insect Control: Use row cover to protect young plants; Neem Oil application (avoid spraying directly on flowers)
Diseases: Powdery Mildew, Mosaic Viruses
Disease Control: Keep gardening tools clean; Crop rotation of 3-4 years
Some early squash varieties will be ready to eat before the temperatures get cold, such as delicata and acorn. Harvest these when the color of the squash turns to the desired shade, or when they’ve sweetened up to your liking.
Later and larger varieties should stay on the vines until after the first hard frost of the season. Once this happens, the vines should die back and the mature squash will be easy to spot. Now is the time to cut all the fruit, leaving at least 2 inches of stem to allow the squash to properly seal itself for storage.
Interested in growing a garden that meets all of your dietary needs? As I mentioned in the first winter squash series post, the traditional food trio of squash, beans, and corn have come together in companion planting for centuries. Plus, it can be done in a garden container so there’s no excuse not to try this out! Read more about this model, along with some specific ways you can layout your Three Sisters garden, here: https://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/nss-blog/415-3sisters
The first part of storing squash takes place when you’re still in the garden or field. Keep an eye out for anything soft, moldy, or wounded. Eat these ASAP, but don’t keep them for long storage.
Check out this great guide for optimal squash storing and eating: https://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/winter-squash-eating-guide.html
Before stacking up your squash for storage, take some time to give them a quick bath with a low bleach concentration. Use about 1 Tbsp of bleach per gallon and wipe down all squash that you plan to store. Let them air dry completely, and then move to your storage location.
This rinse is not necessary, but helps immensely to cut down the amount of mold in your squash storing. It’s inevitable that some of your squash will succumb to bacterial blooms, but this quick step can make a huge difference.
Squash should be stored in a space that has good airflow, with temperatures between 50-60°F. But don’t worry much about getting the temperature perfect, squash still can hang around for months at storage temperatures near 70°F.
MYTH 1: You can determine the species of the squash based on plant structure and size.
FALSE! Squash can be any shape and size regardless of what species or variety it is. Now doesn’t that help you simplify things?
MYTH 2: I mentioned this in Part II already, but it’s time to untangle the great myth of pumpkin pie…
Unless you made it from your own pumpkins, you’re eating squash pie. Turns out that squash like delicata, butternut, and kabocha all make excellent pies, and are used way more often in those “Pumpkin Puree” cans.
It’s time to wrap this squash party up, but not before I direct you to the greatest pie experiment of all time (if you’re a squash-loving foodie). This well-photographed article breaks down the squash pie options, looking at color, texture, and taste, to determine the BEST squash for your needs. Spoiler alert: It isn’t pumpkin.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start growing perfect pie squashes at home. While money may not grow on trees, dessert grows on vines and that’s almost as good.