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Squashes Are Easy To Grow And Store

Squashes Are Easy To Grow And Store

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Among the most interesting, nutritious and useful of all vegetables are the squashes. They come in an endless array of sizes, shapes and colors. Many varieties are wonderful for fresh eating and for winter storage. Squashes get my vote because they are easy to grow and easy to store without canning, freezing or other complicated preservation techniques. With planning and care, it is possible to have squash from your garden almost year round. Squashes are rich in vitamins and minerals, and when properly grown and matured are tasty and flavorful.

A common problem is not understanding when squashes are mature. Those picked too soon lack flavor and texture, are watery and will not store well. Harvest time for winter squash is upon us. Ordinarily, they are allowed to grow as long as possible, because the longer they grow the more mature they become. Their skins become harder and continue to lose water, making them store much better.

Vines start to die with fall weather, so the harvest can begin now or be delayed until just before frost. Ordinarily, squash should not be exposed to freezing temperatures, because frost softens the skin so they do not keep as well. Check to make sure that they are fully mature by sticking your thumbnail into the skin. If the skin breaks easily, the squash hasn't matured and will keep only a short time. Alternatively, look at the indentation made by your thumbnail. If it fills up with liquid, the squash is still full of moisture and is not suitable for long storage.

The best time to harvest squash is on a sunny day after a few days of dry weather. Always cut them from the vine and leave 2 to 3 inches of stem. If you break off the stem, use that squash first because it will not keep well. Brush away dry soil but do not wash them until cooking time. Even though they have a hard skin, squashes bruise easily. This impairs their keeping quality. Handle them carefully to avoid bruising or breaking off the stem.

Long-term storage requires that squash be correctly cured. After harvest, store them in a warm, well-ventilated place for two weeks. Temperatures need to be near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so outside is usually not a good place. Use a sunny porch or bring them indoors where they can dry and cure properly. If you do not have a warm place use a fan to dry and harden the skins. After curing, move them to a cool, dry place. Generally, root cellars are not suitable, because they are too cool and too moist. Storage areas with low humidity and temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal.

One traditional favorite spot for storing winter squash used to be under the bed. Beds were high off the floor and bedrooms were unheated, so it worked well. Most modern gardeners will want to find a different spot. Look for cool, dry, dark areas that are easily accessible. Check frequently for any squash that start to soften, wither or rot. Squashes that start to soften can be frozen for use later in the season.

There are hundreds of different squashes available. This makes the choice somewhat difficult. Some of the ones that I have grown in my garden and their relative strengths and weaknesses are as follows:

- Banana squashes are large, tasty squashes with an intermediate storage life. The big problem with banana and other large squashes is you can be overwhelmed by the amount of squash. A banana squash can easily weigh over 50 pounds, and after they are cut they must be used quickly or preserved in some other way.

- Most children balk at eating squash three meals each day, so I prefer to grow smaller varieties. Properly matured Hubbard squash have very hard shells and will store for long periods. The green and the blue Hubbard are tasty, although the flesh is not as thick as on banana squashes.

- Butternuts are one of my favorites. They are smaller in size and are just about right for a family meal. They are easy to prepare and store extremely well. They have a very small seed cavity and mellow flesh that is not stringy.

- Acorn squash is another favorite that is small and easy to store. The squashes are dark green with fluted shells.

- Buttercup squash are among the sweetest and tastiest of all. They are small in size but have a delicious flavor and texture.

- Sweet Mama is one of the best and tastiest varieties I grow.

- Spaghetti squash also keeps very well. The tender, stringy flesh has a texture very much like spaghetti after baking. We often serve it with spaghetti sauce for a wonderful garden treat.

****** Additional Information

Cultivated gourds

Family: Cucurbitaceae

Genus Species Variety

Cucurbita pepo Jack-O-Lantern or field pumpkins; acorn squash, spaghetti squash; summer squash; small, hard-shelled gourds; edible gourds.

Cucurbita moschata Butternut squash, pumpkin, some varieties

Cucurbita maxima Turban squash, hubbard squash, "Big Max" pumpkin

Cucurbita ficifolia Malabar gourd

Cucurbita mixta "Green Striped Crushaw" pumpkin

Lagenaria siceraria Bottle or white-flowered gourd; cucuzzi

Luffa cylindrica Dishrag gourd

Benincasa hispida Chinese preserving melon or white gourd of India

Cucumis melo Netted muskmelon or cantelope; honeydew and casaba muskmelons; crenshaw melon

Cucumis sativus Cucumber, all varieties

Citrullus vulgaris Watermelon, all varieties; citron

Trichosanthes anguina Snake or serpent gourd



Acorn Squash- primarily round with pointed, deeply ribbed, dark green fruits. Size: small. Use: Bake, stem, or boil

Storage life: Excellent

Selected variety and days to harvest: Table ace, 70; Table King, 82; Table Queen, 80; Cream of the Crop (white skin), 82.

Butternut- Shaped like a large pear with long, thick neck. Size: Medium

Use: Bake, steam, or boil

Storage life: Excellent

Selected Variety and days to harvest- Walthum Butternut, 95 days; Early Butternut Hybrid, 85 days

Blue Hubbard- Large, round, oval, ribbed fruit; bluegray rind, orange flesh

Size: Large

Use: Bake, steam or boil

Storage life: Excellent

Selected variety and days to harvest: Blue Hubbard, 120 Green Hubbard- Large, round, oval, ribbed fruit; green rind, orange flesh

Size: Large

Use: Bake, steam or boil

Storage life: Excellent

Selected variety and days to harvest: Chicago warted Hubbard, 105 days

Banana Squash- Large sausage shape; orange or coral rind, thick orange flesh

Size: Very Large

Use: Bake steam or boil or process

Storage life: Good

Selected variety and days to harvest: Pink banana, 105 days

Buttercup- Turban shaped dark green fruits

Size: Small

Use: Bake, steam or boil

Storage life: Excellent

Selected variety and days to harvest: Burgess Buttercup, 100 days; Sweet Mama, 85 days

Turks Turban- Large sausage shape, green rind, orange flesh

Size: Medium

Use: Baking, steaming

Storage life: Excellent

Selected variety and days to harvest: Turks Turban, 105 days

Kikuza- Flat front with blue gray skin, orange flesh

Size: Very large

Use: Bake, stem or boil or process

Storage life: Good

Selected variety and days to harvest: Kikuza, 110 days

Sweet Meat- Flat front with blue gray skin, orange flesh

Size: Medium

Use: Bake, steam or boil

Storage life: Good

Selected variety and days to harvest: Sweet Meat, 100 days

Spaghetti- Oval shape, light yellow-tan or orange skin, light flesh

Size: Small

Use: Bake or boil with sauce over the top

Storage life: Good

Selected variety and days to harvest: Vegetable spaghetti, 70 days

Mammoth- Round shape with ribs, orange skin and flesh

Size: Very large

Use: Giant pumpkins

Storage life: Fair

Selected variety and days to harvest: Atlantic Giant, 120 days

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Larry A. Sagers


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