How to grow winter squash?

kabocha; how long does it take to mature?

Hi there KawaiiNeko-san,

I grew some mini kabochas last summer from seed I brought back from Japan five years ago, but with mixed results. I still havent quite figured this all out, but IÂm happy to share what I learned from that experiment that went haywire.

First of all, my seeds (the variety was called “Botchan”) were still viable even after five years of less-than-ideal storage conditions! Anyway, I planted two seeds in a ridiculously tiny space between our veranda wall and the retaining wall, crammed behind three little 5-gallon citrus trees I had put in there a few months earlier in April 2009. I fed and watered everyone well and waited to see what would happen next. If my memory serves me, I am pretty sure I put the Kabocha seeds in either late May or early June 2009.

Well, after taking a little while to get going (a month or so since we had an unusually long, chilly spring and it didnÂt really get into summer weather until the 4th of July), they took off like rockets and grew like crazy, sending out lateral shoots off the main vines every which way, completely buried and strangled my poor little citrus trees with their long and numerous tendrils, and made their way rapidly up the rickety trellis I built and installed (belatedly) against the veranda wall behind them and proceeded to set loads of fruit after a spectacular flowering period. I think this was around mid to late July.

Like most summer annuals, pumpkins are very hungry and thirsty plants, as are citrus trees, so I made sure to keep them well fed and watered. Thankfully (and unbeknownst to me at that time), the type of food I was using seemed to agree with both types of plants in that location, i.e., organic Citrus and Vine Food (I canÂt remember the maker right offhand). That was apparently so successful that I was left with no choice but to have to do a “Mack the Knife” operation on the kabochas, or run the risk of heavy casualties on my citrus trees. That was good for many hours of back-breaking hard labor (Man, those vines are heavy!!) on at least two occasions (they grew right back and buried the citrust trees again within a couple weeks of cutting them back!!) which I am sure harmed the plants so they did not produce as much if they would have if I hadnÂt had to prune them back so brutally just as they were fruiting.

As for your questions about soil type, I have massively heavy, sticky clay soil that I dug deeply and added some sand and compost and KelloggÂs “Amend” to lighten it up, and also here in southern California we tend to have alkaline soil due to our hard water. Those conditions apparently didnÂt deter the pumpkins one bit because they grew like crazy.

I was surprised by how quickly the pumpkins matured, i.e., turned from beautiful little pale green variegated marbles with huge golden flowers at the ends into cheery little fist-sized mini kabochas just like the ones I find in the Japanese supermarket. That transformation only took a few weeks (i.e., from mid July-ish to late August-ish). Now this is where it gets a little fuzzy. Apparently kabocha are quite forgiving about timing of picking them. They are apparently done enough when their color looks right, i.e., dark green, but they can be left on the vine until the leaves start to die off in the fall. Ideal picking time is said by some credible sources to be when the stems looks “well corked” (I think that means kind of dried out and shrunk like a melon stem when the melon is ready). Also, my research indicates that youÂre supposed to “cure” them by letting them sit for a few weeks after picking so theyÂll dry out, which apparently heightens the sweetness and flavor. It looks like it was a solid four months between planting the seeds and beginning harvesting the fruit, and then add 3 more weeks or so of curing time.

I havenÂt by any means perfected the timing of harvesting and curing since IÂve only had one pass through this process so far, so that is apparently why a few of mine turned out delicious and sweet, while others were not. I picked the first one too early, didnÂt cure it but just cut it open and roasted it on the grill right after picking, and it was tasteless and a little bitter.

I canÂt speak from experience to your question about transplanting them since I direct-seeded mine, but given their extensive root systems and research I have done, they are not overly fond of being transplanted, but it looks like you have no choice given your location and its climate and the long growth cycle of these plants. However, since they are related to melons, perhaps this advice will work: an avid melon grower starts his plants in 5-gallon pots lined with chicken wire (with the chicken wire coming up far enough outside the pot so you can grab it) filled with sterile potting medium, and then when itÂs warm enough to plant them outside, the seedlings can be lifted out of the pots without the root ball getting all messed up, and the large pots have given the roots enough room to spread out. Here is the link to that fascinating site, but note that you have to look at it with the internet Explorer web browser, as when I tried it in Firefox, it just came up as HTML code: http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/melons.

Well, this year since IÂve come a long way in the learning curve and have a plan for much better vine management, IÂm going to try my “Ebisu” full-sized kabochas! Stay tuned for the progress.

Best of luck with your kabochas!

Brenda K in L.A.

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Winter squashes are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and relatives of both the melon and the cucumber.

Winter squashes like butternut or pumpkin have hard shells that are difficult to pierce, enabling them to have long storage periods under the right conditions, making them an essential crop for anyone trying to grow a lot of their own food.

History of Winter Squash

Modern day squash developed from wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been grown and eaten for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their nutritious seeds because early squash did not contain much flesh, and what they did contain was very bitter.

As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe, and like many other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish conquerers.

Today, there are hundreds of beautiful varieties of winter squash, and the largest commercial producers include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.

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Culture and Cultivation of Winter Squash

Winter squash need warm soil (60 degrees F) to germinate so either start your seeds indoors or direct seed outside once the weather warms up.

If starting indoors, plant your seeds in 3-inch seed pots rather than flats, placing the seeds about an inch under the soil. You can plant 2 or 3 in each pot, to transplant together in hills.

Keep your pots somewhere sunny and warm or they may take a long time to sprout. Get them started about 3 weeks before your last frost date.

Each winter squash plant will produce several large squash, so you won’t need more than 3 or 4 plants unless you have a big family. Transplant your seedlings about 2 weeks after your last frost has passed.

If you are putting seeds straight into the garden, plant them at the same time as you would put out your transplants. They will not germinate or sprout in cold soils. Plant 4 or 5 seeds in a small hill, and thin down to 2 or 3 after they have sprouted.

Winter squash like a fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost. Plant them in a location that will have full sun and allow a lot of space for the vines. Each hill should have 3 feet of space around it. Mulch them well with straw to keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Winter squash can be grown upward on a fence or trellis if you don’t want to have vines all through your garden. If you plan on training them up this way, you can plant your seedlings just 2 feet apart. In this case, don’t plant them in little groups, but rather just one plant every 2 feet.

On trellises, the plant won’t be able to support heavy, mature squashes up in the air on its own. So get creative and support those fruits with slings or nets fashioned from pantyhose, old t-shirts, or mesh produce bags. Just be sure to tie them to the trellis, not the vines.

Like cucumbers, squash vines will first have a round of male-only flowers come to bloom before the female ones do. So don’t be alarmed if none of the first blossoms set any fruit. They aren’t supposed to.

As the season comes to a close, you can help the plant divert its resources to finishing off the larger squash before winter by pinching off any new flowers and removing very young squash.

Troubleshooting Squash Pests and Diseases

Plants are eaten or cut off near soil level. Cutworms are gray grubs ½- to ¾-inch long that can be found curled under the soil. They chew stems, roots, and leaves. Place a 3-inch paper collar around the stem of the plant. Keep the garden free of weeds; sprinkle wood ash around base of plants.

Leaves curl under and become deformed and yellowish. Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Use insecticidal soap.

Leaves turn pale green, yellow, or brown; dusty silver webs on undersides of leaves and between vines. Spider mites suck plant juices causing stippling. Spray with water or use insecticidal soap or rotenone. Ladybugs and lacewings eat mites.

Leaves yellow; tiny white winged insects around plants. Whiteflies will congregate on the undersides of leaves and fly up when disturbed. Remove infested leaves and the whole plant if infestation is serious. Introduce beneficial insects into the garden.

Holes chewed in leaves, leaves skeletonized; runners and young fruit scarred. Spotted cucumber beetle is greenish, yellowish, ¼ inch (7mm) long with black spots and black head. Striped cucumber beetle has wide black stripes on wing covers. Hand pick; mulch around plants; plant resistant varieties; dust with wood ashes. Cultivate before planting to disrupt insect life cycle.

Holes in leaves and flowers; tunnels in vines and fruits. Pickle worms are the larvae of night-flying moths. Moths lay eggs on squash plants. Caterpillars feed on leaves and inside vines and fruits. Pupae may be found inside rolled leaves. Exclude moths with floating row covers. Plant fast-maturing varieties to promote strong growth before pickleworms attack. Plant a few squash as trap crops. Keep garden clean.

Leaves have yellow specks that turn brown, then black and crisp; vines wilt from point of attack. Squash bug is a flat, shield-shaped black or brownish bug with a triangle on its back; it sucks juices from plants. Trap adults beneath boards in spring, hand pick and destroy. Look under leaves for bugs.

Runners wilt suddenly; holes in stems near base of plant. Squash vine borer is a fat, white caterpillar with a brown head that emerges in late spring. It bores into stems to feed causing plants to wilt. Look for entrance holes where frass may accumulate; slit vine with knife and remove borer; bury runner at that point to re-root. Exclude adult moth with floating row covers. Time planting to avoid insect growth cycle. Plant resistant varieties.

Round to angular spots on leaves, reddish brown to black. Anthracnose is a fungus disease that spreads in high humidity and rainfall. Leaves may wither and fall. Plant may die back. Generally found in eastern North America. Spray or dust with a fixed copper- or sulfur-based fungicide every 7 to 10 days. Remove and discard infected plants. Avoid working in the garden when it is wet which can result in spread of spores. Keep tools clean.

Water-soaked blotches on leaves or fruits. Angular leaf spot or bacterial spot is a waterborne bacterium which causes irregular geometric patterns on leaves. Spots may turn yellow and crisp. Avoid wetting foliage with irrigation. Prune off infected leaves and stems. Clean up garden. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Rotate crops up to 2 years.

Round white powdery spots and coating on leaves. Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores. Spores germinate on dry leaf surfaces when the humidity is high; spores do not germinate on wet leaves. Common in late summer or fall but does not result in loss of plant. Avoid water stress. Pick off infected leaves and use this disease preventing spray.

Irregular yellowish to brownish spots on upper leaf surfaces; grayish powder or mold on undersides. Downy mildew is caused by a fungus. Improve air circulation or use trellises. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Keep garden free of plant debris and use this disease preventing spray.

Mottled, distorted leaves. Mosaic virus causes leaves to become thickened, brittle, easily broken from plant; plants are stunted and yields are poor. The virus is spread from plant to plant by aphids and cucumber beetles. Remove diseased plants.

Vines wilt suddenly and die starting with one or two leaves. Bacterial wilt clogs the circulatory system of plants. It is caused by bacteria that live in cucumber beetles and is seen often where the soil stays moist. Remove and destroy infected plants before the disease spreads. Control cucumber beetles with rotenone or sabadilla. Wash hands and clean tools with a bleach solution and use this disease preventing spray.

Plants are stunted and yellow; runners gradually die. Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease which infects plant vascular tissues. Fungal spores live in the soil and can be carried by cucumber beetles. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Remove and destroy infected plants. Fungicides are not effective.

Water-soaked or pale green spot on leaves that turn white; fruit cracks. Scab is caused by soilborne bacterium. Disease can be cosmetic. Plant resistant varieties. If scab occurs, change varieties next year. Sulfur may be worked into soil to make it slightly acidic and reduce disease.

Stems on older plants appear water soaked and turn into cracked brown cankers; fruits become water soaked. Gummy stem blight and black rot are fungus diseases. Infections can girdle stems can cause collapse. Remove and destroy infected vines. Rotate crops where fungus can persist. Grow powdery mildew resistant plants.

Some seeds fail to germinate and come up. Some squash seed are “hard” and resistant to water uptake necessary for sprouting. Soak seed in tepid water for 24 hours before planting; this will increase germination and decrease sprouting time slightly. Dry seed before planting.

Early flowers don’t set fruit. A couple of possible reasons: (1) the first flowers to appear are male; female flower appear next. Fruit is produced by female flowers. Wait until female flowers appear and are pollinated. (2) There may not be enough pollinators, mostly bees, to carry the pollen from male to female flowers. Pick off male flowers and dust the pollen into the female flowers.

Few fruits form even though plants are flowering. Not enough bees. The more bees the more flowers that are likely to set fruit. The average size of a squash is increased when the vine is pollinated by many bees.

Small fruits form then dry up. Female flowers may have blossomed before the male flowers so the female flowers went unpollinated. When female and male flowers blossom at the same time pollination will occur and fruit will grow.

Fruits turn brown or rotten on one end. Blossom end rot means there the plants aren’t getting enough calcium, water or both. Learn more here.

Dense white mold on blossoms or small fruits. Choanephora fruit rot is a fungus that grows on blossoms and developing fruit. Remove and destroy infected blossoms and fruits. Keep the garden clean of debris that can harbor fungus. Rotate crops.

How to Store Winter Squash

Depending upon the variety, winter squashes like butternut can be kept for one month to six months. The thicker the rind, the longer they tend to keep.

Keep winter squash away from direct exposure to light and do not subject them to extreme heat or extreme cold. The ideal temperature for storing winter squash is between 50-60°F (about 10-15°C).

Once it is cut, cover the pieces of winter squash in a glass storage container and store them in the refrigerator, where they will keep for a few days. The best way to freeze winter squash is to first cut it into pieces of suitable size for your individual recipes.

All winter squashes need to be peeled and de-seeded before cooking. Save the seeds though; all winter squash seeds (not just pumpkin) are outstandingly nutritious, and can be dried, roasted and salted or seasoned with cayenne, cumin, ginger or other spices for a delicious snack!

Winter Squash Recipes

  • Easy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
  • Raw Butternut Squash Cookies
  • Coconut Flour Pumpkin Muffins
  • Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Raw Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Your Guide to Growing Winter Squash

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Winter squash, like summer squash, melons and cucumbers, are part of the gourd family. Growing, harvesting, and keeping winter squash is, to me, among the easiest in home food production. There are several varieties, all of which are nutritious and delicious.

The biggest difference between summer squash and winter squash is winter squash isn’t harvested a little at a time as it ripens and continuing to bloom and produce. Winter squash is left on the vine until all the fruit is fully ripened. They are generally left in the garden until the first frost arrives, then they are harvested and stored. You must be careful, however, to never let winter squash freeze. They will immediately be spoiled.

My favorite winter squash is pumpkin. When the boys were little, we used to scratch their names in a green pumpkin. By barely scratching the skin with your pocket knife or spoon handle, the pumpkin will heal over the scratches making raised scars in the rind in the shape of the letters. When they were ready to harvest, the boys had great fun looking for the one with their name on it while we harvested. They never knew they were really working.

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The most popular varieties of winter squash are butternut, acorn, pumpkin, spaghetti, hubbard, buttercup and turban. Although turban can be used like you would butternut and acorn squash, it is usually used as a decorative winter squash.

Winter squash is more nutritious than summer squash. It is high in Vitamins A and C, and high in fiber. Among the other nutrients found in winter squash are calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, vitamin B2, vitamin K, vitamin B3, and omega-3 fats.

Planting and Growing

When to plant squash depends on your gardening zone, but then doesn’t all gardening. The thing is, winter squash requires a long growing season. The growing time varies between the varieties which range from 80 to 120 days. Pumpkins for instance take 100 to 120 days. Now that I live in growing zone 5b/6a, I will have to be careful to provide cover for my winter squash. I will do this long before I would have harvested them in growing zone eight where I always gardened.

Know your gardening zone and plant when you have the required number of days before your first frost. Remember, frost dates are estimates based on weather history averages. Because of their meandering vines, winter squash don’t make a good choice for growing squash in containers. Many summer squash varieties, zucchini and yellow squash for instance, do make good choices for this.

If you keep a garden vegetables list of what you want to plant, take available space and space requirements for different varieties in to account. Plant your winter squash seeds about an inch deep. I usually put three to four seeds in a hill. The old adage, “One for the mole, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow,” comes to mind every time I plant. There are many variations of this saying, do you know another one?

Your hills should be 4 to 6 feet apart depending on the variety you plant. We plant butternut, spaghetti, upper ground sweet potato and pumpkin, for winter squash. We make certain the hills are planted 6 feet apart. We do this to allow plenty of space for the vines and fruit. Some people swear by four feet. Decide what you have space for and go with what suits your needs.

They will sprout within seven to ten days of being planted. Be sure to keep your winter squash well watered, especially once they start producing fruit. Their water requirements are high while growing and ripening fruit.

Remember, squash will cross pollinate within the same family. If you choose members of the same family, allow two to three weeks between plantings and allow adequate room between beds to prevent cross-pollination. I’ve never had a problem with cross-pollination, but our garden has always been large enough to accommodate.

If you don’t have a lot of space, separating the planting time is a good option. You can also use raised beds which are spaced far apart. Best estimates to prevent cross-pollination are ¼ mile or about 1,000 feet, but I’ve had them closer without any problems.

Like we said, you leave winter squash in the field until the first frost comes, but not until freezing temperatures move in damaging the fruit. The vines will be dried up and dead when they frost, if not before. Cut the squash from the vine at least 1” away from the fruit.

In gardening zone eight, I left them in the garden up to two weeks to allow for curing. I have to learn how to do this here. Luckily, I have found a local old-timer, who has taken me under her wing to learn the secrets to gardening in this growing zone.

Curing is important to insuring winter squash are ready to be stored for the winter. If you can’t leave them out to cure, bring them in to the warmest area you can in your home or heated outbuilding for two weeks. Warm temperatures, especially 80-85 degrees F, will allow the rinds to get hard and heal of any superficial cuts.

If you have any deep damage to the fruit, be sure to use those first. Do not store damaged fruit with those you plan to overwinter. They will cause the others to rot as they decompose.

You could, as we do, share the damaged or otherwise undesirable fruits with your livestock. From chickens to pigs, most all livestock enjoy winter squash. Cut the squash into pieces, I have used a machete to do this, and feed them to your livestock. They will all appreciate it!

In the old days, many farmers grew winter squash for their livestock to feed on during winter. This was especially true of those who couldn’t grow grain or enough grain to feed livestock through the winter months.

Storing

Storing winter squash is the only “difficult” part for some homesteaders. This is because of the space required for their larger or more numerous produce. When storing winter squash there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Don’t let them freeze. When the fruit thaws it will be mushy and inedible for humans.
  • Don’t store in damp places, like your root cellar, unless you have a high tech humidity controlled one. Attic spaces or lofts are often used for this purpose as heat rises.
  • It’s best if the fruits don’t touch each other; where they touch, they rot first
  • Do check your stored fruit regularly. Immediately use or remove any fruit that shows signs of going bad
  • Consider every available inch of space you may have on your homestead to store them. As long as they won’t freeze or won’t be exposed to moisture, store them there

Many people spend the winter canning or drying their winter squash. Some people freeze it. We don’t use a freezer for food preservation because of loss experienced with power outages in the past. I personally use them as we go.

Freeze drying is also a good option for preserving your winter squash. They will keep for years and maintain their nutritional value as well.

The winter squash we plant have been excellent keepers and are still good for our use in early March. We use a great deal of them to supplement the winter feed for our livestock. When it’s especially cold out, I like to cut one in half, bake it and give it to the chickens and turkeys for breakfast. Of course, I let it cool off some first.

Saving seeds doesn’t get any easier than with winter squash. We practice selective breeding in our livestock and in our garden. This means we keep seeds from the healthiest plant and fruit for ensuring the best crop.

When you cut open the ripe fruit, remove the seeds. Place them in a quart jar and fill with water. Let it sit on the counter for about 24 hours. The pulp will separate during this time and be easily removed.

Fertile seeds will sink to the bottom and incomplete seeds will float with the pulp. Remove pulp and floating seeds. Rinse the good seeds and lay them out on a towel, in a warm area, to dry. I turn mine every now and then and allow to dry for a couple of days.

Store in a cool dry environment. I keep mine in natural seed envelopes and glass jars with tight lids. They have been good up to seven years.

Use

Well, we’ve already talked about livestock, but what about people. My goodness, the recipes are endless. They can be baked, boiled, mashed and fried. They are good in everything from pies and soups to casseroles and stuffings.

Their seeds are highly nutritious and a personal favorite around our house. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to just the pumpkin, my favorite winter squash.

Upper Ground Sweet Potato

I wanted to make special mention of this particular winter squash for several reasons. The main reason is that the upper ground sweet potato is dying out and will be gone if we don’t preserve it. We started growing these in our garden several years ago. All of the instructions for winter squash apply to it.

The upper ground sweet potato gets its name because the flesh, when ripened, is a color and similar texture to a sweet potato. It does have a sweetish flavor, but isn’t truly sweet. They have a mild flavor which makes them perfect for casseroles and dressings.

The squash may reach up to 15 pounds! I have had a few 11 pounders. We like them because of their excellent keeping quality and productivity.

The rind requires some muscle to cut. We often split it with a machete because my kitchen knives are too small and its rind too hard for me. While we do eat upper ground sweet potato squash ourselves, we grow them largely for livestock, including poultry. Because of their excellent keeping, they ensure a nutritious food source all winter.

Like other winter squash, they spread out greatly. They’re able to survive under conditions most squash could not. Poor soil quality, lack of water (not drought), mildew and bugs all try, but don’t keep this champ from producing its round to bell shaped large fruits. Please consider growing this dying variety of winter squash and save the seeds. I purchased mine from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Do you have a favorite winter squash? How about a favorite winter squash recipe? Please, share your tips for growing and storing them with us.

Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack

Related References

Meal Size Autumn Glow Butternut Squash

Growing for Fruit Volume or Fruit Size

There two basic approaches to growing winter Squash and pumpkins, growing for fruit volume or growing for fruit size. Both approaches required good plant culture practice but use different strategies.

Growing for Fruit Volume

Growing for fruit volume is most frequently associated with growing for food and dry storage. While large fruit is not necessarily a bad thing, growing a larger volume of small fruit has its advantages. Among these advantages are:

  • Smaller fruit tends to be more one meal size and, therefore, means fewer leftovers to store or serve later from each fruit.
  • Fruit can be prepared or canned in small sets.
  • A smaller scale of lose when fruit goes bad during storage.

To grow for fruit volume, you need only to follow a few simple steps:

  • Choose a hardy vigorous squash know for volume fruit production.
  • Choose disease and pest resistant varieties.
  • Choose varieties with growth season requirements (e.g. 90 days, 100 days, 120 days) that are well within your growing season.
  • Use succession planting. In areas with a long growing season, plant more than one crop of shorter seasoned fruit. In some areas a summer and autumn crop is possible. Especially, if the early crop is started indoors to get a jump on the season. Additionally, planting crops in session rather than all at once for the small garden can provide an opportunity to withstand a partial crop loss from pests of disease.
  • Leave all fruit on the vine
  • Once the vine has set fruit to allow the vine to grow a foot or so past the fruit then cut off the endmost portion of the vine. This pruning process should cause the vine to spread (vine) laterally from the original vine. The lateral vines should set fruit as well. This also has the added advantage of creating a more compact squash patch.

Growing for Size

Growing for size is most commonly associated with competition growing. To achieve maximum size:

  • Chose a fruit with the genetic capacity to achieve the size desired, while good plant culture will add to fruit size, having the genetic ability to obtain larger sizes gives a significant head start.
  • Grow one fruit per vine. Be sure to wait until you have confirmed that the fruit has been pollinated and has started to grow prior to removing other fruit.
  • Pay attention to fruit position on the vine. As a general rule fruit will grow larger farther out on long vines, assuming that the vines have been permitted to root at leaf joints.
  • Growing Winter Squash and Pumpkins Vertically
  • Climatic Considerations for Winter Squash and Pumpkins
  • Good Reasons to Grow Plenty of Winter Squash And Pumpkins
  • Cool Storage of Winter Squash and Pumpkins
  • Can All Pumpkins and Winter Squashes Be Eaten?
  • Choosing the Best Squash and Pumpkins for Your Family

Can You Grow Summer Squash In Fall?

Summer squash likes it hot. That being said, there are some southern US climates where squash lovers can still enjoy a Fall harvest of Summer squash. If you live in a western or southern region with Fall temperatures in the 70-90 degree Fahrenheit range, you can have Summer squash in Fall! One reason is due to the short growing season of Summer squash that averages about 50 days. But now is the time to get your seeds in the ground. The following gardening tips for Summer squash also apply when planting for a Summer harvest.

Best Varieties: There are two particular varieties of Summer squash that are possibilities in the right climate for a Fall harvest.

  • Early White Scallop: This heirloom variety produces a fruit with a creamy white skin flecked with gold and matching creamy white inner flesh that is delectably sweet. It can be ready to harvest as early as 45 days on vines that can reach 3-4 foot lengths. Tolerant to temperatures as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer climates might be suitable for an early Fall harvest. ( image)
  • Black Beauty Zucchini: 6-8″ fruits are produced with a dark, robust green skin and creamy white flesh. Mature height is only 12-24 inches and grows as a bush. This makes it possible for a Fall harvest container garden that can be moved inside if warm southern days transition to too-cool southern nights. ( image)

Sowing Seeds: Squash doesn’t like to be transplanted. That means you want to start from scratch with seeds that are sown directly into their permanent garden spot. Squash is a heavy eater. Prepare a fresh planting area that hasn’t been used to grow squash for at least 2 years prior. Prepare soil by enriching with organic matter or compost.

Squash also produces a shallow root system that needs adequate drainage. Break up any compacted soil. Add sand if drainage quality needs improvement.

Sow 1-2 seeds about 1″ deep, then lightly cover with soil. If not planting a container garden, use mounds, rather than rows, to orient squash plants. Vines like to spread out. Mounding helps the plant keep its shape and makes more efficient use of space. Space mounds at least 3 feet apart.

Seedlings: Within 7-14 days, expect to see the appearance of seedlings. Thin out the weakest after the first two sets of leaves have appeared.

Crop Size: One last early Fall harvest of Summer squash will produce more than you might think. On average, a single, typical zucchini plant will produce 3-9 pounds. Know what to expect and plan accordingly when it comes time to harvest.

Watering Methods: A drip system is the best method to deliver water to your Summer squash garden. The root system of Summer squash loves water but the plant itself, not so much. Too much moisture above ground can lead to fungal problems. However, if you must water the old-fashioned way, do so in the early morning where a warm, sunny day will evaporate water that pools in leaves and stem joints.

How Much Water? Squash is a very thirsty plant with a shallow root system. In order for roots to soak up the weekly 1-2 inches of water the plant needs, a weekly drenching of 6-8 inches of water is adequate for a traditional garden plot. Mulching will help conserve water usage. If Summer squash is being planted in a container garden for a Fall harvest that can weather cool nights indoors, watering may need to occur more frequently.

Fertilizing: Compost is the best nutrient enrichment for soil. By preparing soil properly before sowing seeds, gardeners will have less need for additional fertilizer treatment. Mulching plants will also provide additional nutritional benefit while also helping to conserve water. Once every two weeks throughout the growing season, give plants a boost with an application of compost tea. Steep a handful of compost per gallon of water for about 48 hours then apply.

Pest & Disease: The most common problems that plague Summer squash are the insects that love to munch on the plants. But diseases attributed to fungus and various bacterial strains can also cause problems.

  • Cucumber Beetles: This nasty pest causes the disease, bacterial wilt. It may be present before pollination has occurred which means a gardener can’t use the simple solution of a good pesticide spray. As soon as leaves show signs of wilting, inspect for the tell-tale signs of black and yellow striped or spotted beetles. A counter attack of ladybugs or lacewings are good treatment strategies. But beneficial insects only eat the eggs, preventing future infestation. It’s up to the gardener to pluck and remove the adult beetles. If there are too many to pick off by hand, spot treatments with organic insecticide on the underside of leaves may be necessary and shouldn’t affect pollinators.
  • Vine Borer: This insect attacks the main stems, feeding on juices. The first noticeable signs are sudden halt in growth and plant wilt. If an inspection of the base of the plant reveals a residue that looks like fine sawdust, you have vine borer problems. At this point the battle has most likely been lost. That is why an application of preventative is important to young seedlings. An organic pesticide applied to the base of young seedlings, and consistently re-applied throughout the growing season as recommended, will stop vine borers from setting up residence in your plants.
  • Gummy Stem Blight: Also called black rot fungus, this fungal disease attacks the tissues of plant stems and is highly contagious. It can strike at any time of a plant’s life cycle. The fungus prefers warm, wet conditions. When active, plants will develop black, dead tissue that appears as soft spots. Progress can be halted if action is taken immediately. Remove affected matter and apply a recommended organic fungicide. Powder form may be preferred since a spray introduces more moisture and moisture is part of the problem.

Harvest Time: When the skin is easily pierced with a fingernail, it’s time to harvest. Small pruning shears should be used to snip stems, leaving an inch or two of stem-length on the fruit. Many Summer squash varieties are not as sweet as Winter squash. This makes Summer squash the perfect addition, raw and fresh, to salads or even for dipping. Savory soups enjoy richer texture when chunks of zucchini are added. White scallop is tender and perfect steamed, sauteed or added to your favorite stir-fry recipe. Slice up both varieties, add to shish-ka-bobs and grill up a healthy, fresh Fall picnic.

Storage: Summer squash is best enjoyed fresh. The skin is thinner than Winter squash so long-term storage is not an option. Although a pumpkin may last for months as a Fall decoration or stored in the root cellar, not so for more delicate Summer squash. If not eaten right away, store in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for up to one week. Otherwise, make purees or cube or shred and freeze. But don’t forget to save some seeds for next Summer’s garden!

Get Some Seeds: Summer squash is really a cinch to grow. Even a rookie gardener can enjoy success with their first effort if they follow tips from experienced gardeners. The key is in the soil. Although foliage and fruit get all the glory, it is the soil that ultimately determines the quality of your yield. Invest the time and effort to prepare a great soil bed to receive seeds and reap a bountiful harvest. Contact a trusted gardening professional to order seeds today!

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