This season, enjoy some wonderful winter squash
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
Winter squash is a favorite vegetable of mine. To start with, they are beautiful looking and feeling vegetables in glorious autumnal shades of orange, yellow, green and grey-blue. They keep for weeks or months on end. And they are delicious - whether baked, steamed, used in pies and breads, added to stews, or made into soups. It is hard to grow a bad winter squash. While the taste varies among the different varieties, some being a little nuttier or sweeter than others, I have never been disappointed with the taste of any variety, and I think they are well worth the growing effort.
There are several main types of winter squash. I generally limit myself to two or three different varieties each year, due to their copious space requirements. Even the smaller bush-types require at least 16 square feet.
Acorn squash have wonderfully ridged, mostly dark green fruits. ‘Ebony Table Queen’ is an old standby, first introduced in 1913. More compact acorn varieties include ‘Table Ace,’ ‘Bush Table King’ and ‘Early Acorn Hybrid.’ ‘Royal Ace PM’ is resistant to powdery mildew, although the plants are semi-bush. The golden yellow flesh of acorns has a sweet, smooth taste, and the hard shell makes this squash excellent for stuffing. A lovely, quite unusual acorn is ‘Snow White,’ which is grown for its lighter yellow flesh and ghostly white skin. Acorns generally take from 75 to 90 days to mature.
Pear-shaped butternut squashes are quite popular in the home garden, even though their skin color is rather bland. They are prized for their bright orange, flavorful flesh, beige skins and resistance to those pesky squash vine borers. ‘Waltham’ has been the standard cultivar for years, producing meaty 2- to 3-pound fruit maturing in 90 days. Smaller, semi-bush ‘Early Butternut’ and still more compact ‘Burpee Butterbush’ both mature in 75 days.
Buttercup squashes produce small, drum-like fruit ranging in size from 2 to 5 pounds. The skins are usually dark green, some having grayish stripes, although ‘Ambercup’ will mature to a pumpkin orange. All buttercup squashed have sweet, orange, moderately-dry flesh and are good keepers. Popular varieties include ‘Buttercup’ (100 days), ‘Sweet Mama’ (84 days) and ‘Butterball Hybrid’ (90 days).
‘Blue Hubbard’ is a rugged New England favorite with huge fruit, but it really needs room to roam, and unless you have a huge family, it may be larger than you can easily handle. ‘Golden Hubbard’ and ‘Green Hubbard’ have orangey-yellow fleshed fruits that are a little smaller – only 10 to 20 pounds. They store well, taste great, and mature in about 100 days.
Two squash which do not fit into any of the above groups are ‘Delicata’ and ‘Sweet Dumpling.’ ‘Delicata’ is a relatively compact variety producing delicious, 8-inch, cylindrical fruits. The skin is a ridged cream and green, and the orange flesh has an almost buttery flavor to it. For a small squash, ‘Delicata’ keeps rather well.
‘Sweet Dumpling’ also stores well, despite its small size. This squash is actually an edible ornamental gourd. It matures in about 85 days and would be a great squash to trellis up a sturdy frame or fence. ‘Sweet Dumpling’ produces 4-inch diameter ivory and green-striped fruits, the perfect size for stuffing. It is not overly productive, but one taste will decide whether it is worth your trouble.
Squash seeds can be planted after the danger of frost has passed. Usually, four or five seeds are planted in a group, called a hill. After the seeds germinate, you can thin to the three strongest seedlings.
To produce bountiful crops of squash, fertilize and water well throughout the growing season. Harvest the squash when the stems turn brown or the rind resists puncturing with your fingernail. A light frost will not hurt them and actually improves their flavor. Cure all squash, except acorns, at 70 to 80 degrees F for two weeks, and then store in a dry, cool (50 degrees F) place.
For more information on growing and using winter squash or any other home and garden question, call the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, toll-free, at (860) 486-6271, visit the Web site www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.