Winter squash – By: Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension.
Winter squash are in the Cucurbit family of plants and include many varieties of acorn, buttercup, butternut, buttercup, and Hubbard squash, as well as pumpkins of all sizes and shapes. There are also many specialty winter squashes with their own unique flavor, such as delicata and kabocha. Spaghetti squash is so-named because its cooked flesh turns into strands, like spaghetti, when scooped out.
Today’s squashes originated with wild squash in Guatemala and Mexico. While people have eaten squash for over 10,000 years, only the seeds were consumed at first since the wild squashes had very little flesh and it was bitter tasting. Over time, squash was cultivated throughout the Americas, and people saved seed from varieties that tasted good and had more flesh. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe along with other Native American foods, and squash was spread around the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, China and Japan grow a lot of squash.
Unlike summer squash, which is eaten when immature so it is still tender and free of seeds, winter squash is harvested when the fruit is mature so the rind is hard and the seeds are present. This can take 3 or 4 months from planting. Winter squash grow on vines, and some are long while others are of the bush type. Good yields of small squash varieties range from 5 to 7 tons or 2,000 to 4,000 squashes per acre. Large winter squashes like butternut and carving pumpkins may yield 10 to 20 tons per acre.
Pumpkins and winter squash have separate male and female flowers on the same plant, so bees and other pollinators are necessary to transfer pollen so fruit will be formed. Flowering and fruit set in winter squash takes place over a few weeks and each female flower is only receptive to pollination for about 24 hours, during which it needs multiple pollinator visits for adequate pollination to make a nice squash.
Winter squash can be harvested anytime after their rinds are hard; but one should not wait for them to turn a fully ripe if it is getting too cold outside. Repeated exposure to temperatures below 50 degrees F. can result in chilling injury, causing the squash to rot prematurely in storage. Once ripe, cut squash from the vines, leaving some stem attached. Pumpkins and squash will turn their ripe color if held in a warm area after harvest. If storing for several months, a two week period of curing at 75 to 80 degrees F can toughen up the skins and help the squash stay firm.
By: Vern Grubinger
University of Vermont Extension