Winter Squash 101
Winter squash, despite what the name implies, are actually grown throughout the summer and ready for harvest in the fall (September or October). Unlike their summer squash counterparts, winter squash need to reach full maturity before harvesting resulting in a much longer growing season. Winter squash, while technically a fruit, is used as a vegetable in most settings. It is full of vitamin C and high in fiber. The seeds are also high in vitamin E which is an antioxidant. Winter squash earned its name because of its long shelf life (all winter) when stored properly. Types of winter squash include pumpkins, butternut squash and spaghetti squash.
Growing Winter Squash
Sow seeds in late spring, after the frost danger has passed. Seeds will rot in cool or wet soil. You want the soil to be a minimum of 62 degrees for treated seeds and 70 degrees for untreated seeds. You want to sow 1-2 seeds every foot or 2-3 feet for the larger fruited varieties. Plant the seeds ½” -1” deep. As the seedlings grow, thin out to one plant per spot.
Sow 2-3 seeds in containers or plug trays 2-3 weeks before planting outdoors. Thin to 2 plants per cell with scissors. After the frost danger is passed, they can then be transplanted outside with 18-36” of space between plants.
The use of fertile, well-drained soil is recommended as well as an area in full sun. Typically planted late may to early july in extremely southern states. On average they will take 70-100 days of frost free temperatures to fully grow. You can plant squash in either rows or hills depending on the type of squash, space in the garden, and your personal preference. Typically, vining varieties are grown in hills or raised mounds, with 2-3 plants and spaced 5-8 feet out. Bush varieties don’t need as much space between plants and can be planted 2-3 feet apart in rows that are 6 feet apart.
If you want to grow a vining variety but don’t have much space, that’s okay! Small winter squash varieties can be trained up a trellis. Larger varieties can be trained upward on a trellis as well, although it may make it more difficult to sufficiently support the fruit but with the help of netting or hog panels it is possible! You can even grow them in an arch form over a walkway to provide a new visual aspect to your garden. You will want to plant the vines 6-12 feet apart depending on the variety. Growing squash like this has the benefit to a physically easy harvest as well.
Don’t forget to water!
Sandy soil needs watered more often than clay soils. Consistent watering is key, you want at least 1 inch of water per week. However if the leaves begin to wilt they may need more water. Attempt to keep the leaves and fruit dry while watering; wet leaves can lead to root rot and other diseases.
You want to harvest winter squash when it is mature, typically in September or October. The vine leaves will turn brown, the stems dry out and become tough, and the rind is hard. The best way to tell if the squash is mature is by attempting to pierce the skin with your fingernail, if you can then it is not mature. Harvest on a dry day, with a sharp knife or pruners, cut the squash off the vine, and leave 1-2 inches of stem on the squash. Be careful not to break the squash stem, if this breaks it can expose the skin to infection.
Curing and Storage:
In order for your winter squash to last for a while they must be “cured” before storing. This is when the squash skin hardens, and seals out fungi and bacteria. If the weather is dry you can leave the squash on the vine to let them cure in the sun for 5-7 days. If it's wet or cold, you can bring them inside and place them somewhere where it is warmer and dry such as a sunny window in 80-90 degree temps for 3-5 days.
You want to store winter squash in a cool, dry area that's between 50 and 60 degrees. Such as on a cool and dark shelf, in a cabinet, or drawer in your kitchen, pantry, or closet. Most winter squash varieties will store for the majority of the winter, but be sure to rotate occasionally and look for signs of decay. Acorn squash is the exception to this, as its shelf life is only few weeks.Ready to give growing winter squash a chance? Check out our winter squash varieties!