Winter Squash

Winter may bring cold weather, but winter squash brings a taste treat: delicious and healthy, winter squashes can be somewhat challenging to grow. Because winter squashes grow as vines, significant space is needed and some support may be required.

In this article, we'll discuss growing winter squash, types of winter squash, selecting winter squash, and the health benefits of winter squash.

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The different tasty winter squash types include acorn, buttercup, butternut, and hubbard.
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About Winter Squash

Winter squashes are weak-stemmed tender annual vines. They have large cucumber-like leaves, and separate male and female flowers grow on the same plant.

Most winter squashes grow as vines, but some newer varieties have been bred to have a more compact, bushy habit of growth. Vining types of winter squash can be caged or trained to climb up a fence or trellis to save space.

If you're growing a variety that will need support, set the support in place at the time of planting. If you do it later, you risk damaging the plant's roots. Winter squash varieties have hard skins when they're harvested and eaten.

Popular types of winter squashes include acorn, banana, buttercup, butternut, cushaw, hubbard, and Turk's turban. Spaghetti squash is technically a small pumpkin and is cared for in the same way as pumpkins.

Common Name: Winter Squash
Scientific Name: Cucurbita maxima
Hardiness: Very Tender (harvest before the first frost)

In the next section, we'll discuss how to grow winter squash.

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Winter squash don't mind warmth a bit -- and prefer a lot of fertilization.

These vine-growers need some space, but are worth the effort: They can be turned into delicious vegetable side dishes and used in a number of recipes.

Curious about growing winter squash? Tips on how to grow and harvest squash are below.

Winter squashes should be left on the vine until the skin cannot be dented.

Growing Winter Squash

Contrary to what its name suggests, winter squashes are warm-season crops and are very sensitive to cold and frost. Don't plant the seeds until the soil has warmed up in the spring, about two to three weeks after the average date of last frost. Direct-seeding is best.

If you're planting a variety that requires a longer growing season than your area has, use transplants from a reputable nursery or garden center, or grow your own transplants. Start four to five weeks before the outdoor planting date, and use individual plantable containers to lessen the risk of shock when the seedlings are transplanted.

Squashes like well-worked soil with good drainage. They're heavy feeders so the soil must be well-fertilized.

Two to three weeks after the average date of last frost, when the soil is warm, plant squash in inverted hills. Place the hills 3 to 4 feet apart, and plant four or five seeds in each hill. When the seedlings are about a week old, thin them to leave the two to three strongest plants. Keep the soil evenly moist; squashes need a lot of water in hot weather.

Harvesting Winter Squash

Leave winter squashes on the vine until the skin is so hard it cannot be dented with your thumbnail. Harvest before the first frost. Break or cut it off the vine.

Cure squashes in a dark, humid place for 10 days at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit; then store them at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a moderately dry, dark place for five to six months.

In the next section, you'll learn about the different types of winter squash.

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Sometimes sweet, sometimes nutty: Winter squash offers a number of flavors. The different types also have different growth cycles. A brief breakdown of the different types of winter squash is below.

Winter squash can have a growth cycle of 75 to more than 100 days.

Acorn Squash Types:
  • Early Acorn, harvest in 75 days, produces fruit with smooth texture and orange flesh on a compact plant.
  • Table King, harvest in 75 days, has large fruit and a small seed cavity; it is an All America Selection.
Butternut Squash Types:
  • Butter Boy Hybrid, harvest in 80 days, has a sweet, nutty flavor and reddish orange flesh.
  • Waltham, harvest in 85 days, is an All America Selection and has orange flesh.
Hubbard Squash Types:
  • Blue Hubbard, harvest in 120 days, provides large fruit with blue-gray skin and orange flesh.
  • Hubbard Improved Green, harvest in 120 days, has dark green skin and orange flesh.
Spaghetti Squash Type:
  • Vegetable Spaghetti, harvest in 100 days, has yellow skin and flesh; it should be stored like winter squash.
Turban Squash Types:
  • Buttercup, harvest in 105 days, has dark green skin and orange flesh with a very small seed cavity.
  • Turk's Turban, harvest in 105 days, has bright red or orange skin with white and green stripes.
  • Bonbon, harvest in 81 days, is an early, compact grower with exceptional taste.
Other Squash Types:
  • Rumbo, harvest in 95-100 days, is like a squat, beige pumpkin with super-sweet flesh.
In the next section, we'll discuss selecting winter squash.

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Despite seasonal growth patterns, most types of squash are available year-round, though winter squash is best from early fall to late winter.

Winter varieties, such as those with dark skins that are too hard and thick to eat, include acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, Danish hubbard, spaghetti, and turban. Look for smaller squash that are brightly colored and free of spots, bruises, and mold.

The hard skin of winter squash serves as a barrier, allowing it to be stored a month or more in a dark, cool place. An added bonus: Beta-carotene content actually increases during storage.

The skin may not be good to eat, but can help you judge whether or not
a winter squash is ready to eat: Look for bright colors and a lack of bruises.

Preparation and Serving Tips

After peeling (or not, if you like) and removing the seeds, winter squash can be baked, steamed, sauteed, or simmered.

Some savory seasoning suggestions for winter squash: allspice, cinnamon, curry, fennel, marjoram, nutmeg, sage, and tarragon.

And remember: Winter squash is a healthy food. When you think of fiber, think of squash. And you won't even think of having those extra helpings.

In the next section, we'll tell you why when we cover the health benefits of winter squash.

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Squash has a reputation for fiber. Eating squash is particularly satisfying, because the bulk fills you up, allowing you to forgo second helpings.

Because squash is actually the fruit of various members of the gourd family, it comes in a wide array of colors and sizes. Whether it's tasty summer squash or sweet, flavorful winter squash, this vegetable is a great addition to any healthy diet.

A tasty bonus: Winter squash has more nutrients than summer squash.

Health Benefits of Winter Squash

Though all varieties of squash are good nutrition choices, winter varieties tend to be more nutrient-dense. They generally contain much more beta-carotene and more of several B vitamins than summer squash.

Butternut squash's beta-carotene content even rivals that of mangoes and cantaloupe. And that's a boon in the fight against cancer, heart disease, and cataracts.

Beta-carotene may also play a role in reducing lung inflammation and emphysema. Winter squash also contain beneficial amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, which is just right for filling you up, not out.

Butternut Squash
Serving Size: 1/2 cup, cooked

Fat 0 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 11 g
Protein 1 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sodium 4 mg
Vitamin A
11,434 IU
1 mg
Pantothenic Acid
<1 mg
Vitamin C
15 mg
42 mg
Potassium 290 mg
9,036 micrograms

Winter squash is as delicious as it is colorful. These hard, tasty squash can fill up your garden -- and your stomach, becoming a healthy addition to your eating plan that you're sure to enjoy.

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