One day in late May I was doing the dishes and thinking about how upset I was at myself for not getting more planted in the garden. I was really mad we had not set out any summer or winter squash. Then I remembered I had some squash seeds from an order from Baker Creek in my little seed pile.
I couldn’t remember exactly what I had ordered, but I didn’t care. Whatever was in there, I was determined to go drop and grow it in our tomato patch. So I went straight to my seed pile and grabbed the pack of seeds still sitting in the mailing envelope. Inside I found Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash seeds.
I remembered I had bought them because they’re a southern heirloom variety of winter squash that is very hardy and tolerates our hot summers. We have not had much luck with winter squash in the past, so I have been anxious to give them another try. So without any further thought, I set out to the tomato patch and poked 3 seeds in the ground…a few feet away from our tomatoes.
I knew better than to plant them next to our tomatoes because winter squash tend to be very large vining plants. But I did it anyway just because I’m stubborn. And now I’m having to get creative with this massive squash vine that is trying to swallow my tomato plants. Looking back at the comments on Baker Creek, I’m both excited and anxious to find out how vigorous and prolific this plant is. It’s gonna be awkward, but I’ll make it work. I’ll think of something. Probably.
Growing winter squash is not really different from growing summer squash, but there are a couple of things to remember about winter varieties.
Growing Winter Squash
- Winter squash is called winter squash because the squash fruit will store without special treatment for several months. So squash harvested in late summer can be eaten in winter. This is very handy as we cannot grow squash in winter. 🙂
- Winter squash are sensitive to frost like summer squashes, so they must be started at least 4 months before the first frost in your area. Down here, I had plenty of time starting the seeds in late May. Thinking of winter squash as a fall crop it is easy to forget to set them out in early spring, but don’t.
- They love the sun, like their summer counterparts, and they are generally very large vines. Give them lots and lots of space. A common way to plant them is in little groups of 3. Each vine will grow out in a different direction from one central point. The vines can grow upwards of 20 feet long. Lots and lots of space, I tell you.
- Squashes make male and female flowers that must be pollinated by hand or pollinators to make fruit. To hand pollinate your fruit, simply identify a male flower and a female flower. Snip off the male flower and remove the petals. Swirl the stamen of the male flower around inside the female flower, and you’re good to go!
- They are sensitive to squash bugs, vine borers, and powdery mildew like other squashes.
Harvesting and Curing Winter Squash
- Allow the squash to ripen on the vine. The vine will start to shrivel up and die, and when the stem of the squash is hard, you know it is ready. Double check by pressing on the skin with your fingernail. It may dent but should not break the skin.
- Acorn, dumpling, and delicata squash will get a signature orange spot on the ground side when they are ready.
- Always cut (never break) the vine and leave 2 or more inches of stem on the fruit. Pulling the stem off will make the fruit susceptible to molding. Never carry the squash by the stem, either.
- Some winter squashes are suitable for consumption at the time of harvest. Others should be stored to sweeten and yummy up for 1-2 months.
- So which need curing and which need storing? I like this handy curing and storage chart at Johnny’s Seed.
- Curing is simply the process of allowing the skin and rind of the fruit to harden so that the edible meat inside is safe during storage.
- Curing is easy but takes time. Allow the squash to sit in a warm, dry space, out in the sun or in a greenhouse, for 2 weeks. Larger squash should be rotated and allowed to cure for another 2 weeks.
Storing Winter Squash
- Look for a cool dry area, like the basement or a closet, to store the squash.
- Make sure to store them up off of the ground. Never pile them on top of each other as this can cause bruising and invite mold and rot.
- Check them every couple of weeks to make sure none have soft icky spots or have been chewed by a hungry rodent.
- When kept properly, butternut, hubbard, and kabocha squash can store up to six months. Acorn, spaghetti, and delicata squash can store up to three months.
Eating Winter Squash
Okay, so growing this squash is great and all, but what about eating it. Isn’t that important, too? Heck to the yes it is.
You’ll need this Winter Squash Recipe Round Up.
I am really excited to try the Upper Ground squash in some of those recipes. I will definitely be talking about what happens with these squash in the future.
I love watching this plant grow. It is so gigantic! Wish me luck as I try to tame it and protect my precious Cherokee Purples, too!
Are you growing winter squash?