Planting Winter Squash (Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, C. pepo) Information
By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
About Winter SquashWinter squash are annuals ranging from 1 lb. (450 g) to 66 lb. (30 kg). They are warm seasoned vegetables and are harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Both fruits and leaves may be eaten cooked.
They include pumpkins and gourds. The colors range from green, cream, blue-green, yellow, orange, red and striped. Colors change in different stages of maturity, oftentimes to a bright orange color when fully mature. Their skins may be rough or smooth; warted or ridged.
Site PreparationWinter squash seeds should be sown after the frost since seeds will not germinate in cold conditions. Seeds germinate at a minimum soil temperature of 68 degrees F (20 degrees C). Seeds sown in pots need a minimum of 60 degrees F (16 degrees C) until they are planted out as seedlings after four weeks of sowing. Prepare holes at least 12 inches (30 cm) wide and deep working in manure or compost that are well-rotted. Winter squash require medium to high nitrogen, using fertilizer with 21 percent N content should be between approximately 1 1/2 to 2oz. per square yard (45 to 55g per square meter) and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 oz. per square yard (70 to 100g per square meter).
Special FeaturesMost winter squash are available all year round, but the peak time is early fall through the winter. They are cholesterol free and low in fat and sodium. Winter squash come in different shapes from round, long, squat or onion-shaped to a two-layered turban shape. They have huge leaves that are compact and bushy. Winter squash forms very large trailing plants.
Choosing a VarietyThe recommended winter squash are: Ambercu, Blue Hubbard, Buttercup, Cornell's Bush Delicata, Early Butternut, Golden Hubbard, Heart of Gold, Sweet Dumpling, Sweet Mama, Table Ace, Table Queen (acorn) and Waltham Butternut.
Acorn squash has distinctive longitudinal ridges and sweet, yellow-orange flesh.
Buttercup squash has a turban-shape (a flattish top and dark green skin), weighing 3 to 5 pounds and normally heavy with yellow-orange flesh.
Butternut squash has a sweet, nutty taste that is similar to pumpkin or sweet potato. It has yellow skin and orange flesh.
Choose hard, thick-shelled squash that feel heavy for their size.
PlantingTo hasten germination, seeds should be soaked overnight before sowing. Space plants 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) apart, depending on the cultivar. For large ones, dig holes up to 18 inches (45 cm) deep and 24 inches (60 cm) wide. Insert stakes to mark the center for watering. Apply mulch after planting.
CareFertilizers may be applied after planting using the top-dressing of a general fertilizer. Install bent wires to train the shoots to hold down the stems. You can also use tripods to support the plants. Water winter quash only in very dry weather since they are deep rooting.
Watch out for pests and diseases. Slugs, vine borers, cucumber mosaic virus, spotted cucumber beetles and striped cucumber beetles have been known to cause some problems.
Harvesting and StorageWhen it is ripe, cut the squash off the plant keeping stalks as long as much as possible. Leave the squash in the sun for about 10 days to harden the skin forming a barrier that slows the rate of water loss. Harvest winter squash 12 to 20 weeks after planting. Leave fruits on the plant to mature as long as possible before storing. Pick before the first frost.
Cover the fruits at night if frosts threaten, or cure indoors at 81 to 90 degrees F (27 to 32 degrees C) for four days. Acorn can be stored without first being cured. Store in a well ventilated space keeping the temperature at 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). Winter squash may be stored up to six months, sometimes longer depending on the cultivar.