EAST TEXAS - Ever heard winter squash? I’d heard of it for years and never understood the name.
I understand summer squash: the yellow squash varieties and zucchini that is a warm season vegetable and harvested when tender and eaten immediately.
But winter squash is also grown in the summer months. It cannot tolerate cold soil and certainly won’t last after a frost.
But the name?
The designation “winter” comes from the fact that because of its tough rind, it can store well for weeks or even months and then be eaten throughout the winter. In days gone by, gardeners relied upon these summer-grown squash to make it through the winter months.
In fact, if you think of the cornucopia that graces the Thanksgiving table, it typically contains several varieties of winter squash that settlers stored for the coming winter.
Acorn, Spaghetti, Butternut and others are some of the most common. Others that you would recognize include Hubbard and Turks Turban. And there is a wide assortment of varietals that I am not listing. Pumpkins, though we certainly think of them as different from squash are very closely related in the cucurbit family of vegetables.
Just like their summer relatives, plant when all chance of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. We plant them in full sunlight in hills just like other cucurbit crops.
Both winter and summer squash will grow on large spreading vines so be sure to give them plenty of room.
Every experienced gardener knows the joke about the neighbors pretending not to be home when you come over with more zucchini to share. That is a vegetable that can be prolific and won’t last long. Likewise, your winter squash should also be prolific. But you won’t need to get rid of it quickly.
Whereas your summer squash will be ready in 40 to 50 days, winter squash will take 70 to 100 days - just over three months - before they are ready to be harvested.
Unlike yellow summer squash that you harvest before the rind gets tough, you’ll want to wait until the fruit of winter squash have turned a deep, solid, almost dull color, when the rinds have hardened. If your fingernail can push through the rind, you are harvesting it too early. Leave at least two inches of stem and they will store for several weeks to a couple months in a cool dry place.
Fruits that are not fully mature, have their stems knocked off, are subjected to frost, or are bruised should be eaten immediately or be added to the compost pile.
I’ve got butternut and spaghetti squash growing now in my garden. The first time I had spaghetti squash was not too long ago when it was served up with meatballs and marinara sauce. Not bad at all!
My butternut squash, cut in half and backed in the oven with a little butter and brown sugar, is what I’m most looking forward to!