Winter squashes are a sub-variety of squash that fully mature before eating, and only the insides are eaten. The designation 'winter squash' is an indication that they are eaten in the winter after picking in the fall and curing. Summer squashes, by contrast, are picked in midsummer and have an edible skin.
Winter squashes include pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc. etc. They are all treated somewhat differently, but generally can be roasted or pureed, and of course, pumpkin can be used in pies.
Can I be frank? Just like the other curcurbits, I'm not a big fan. The only redeeming quality are the pumpkin seeds, which I roast with salt.
Planting Time: MAY-JUN (in central Maryland)
Harvest Time: AUG-OCT (in central Maryland)
Spacing: 5-6 ft in row, 7-12 ft. between
In direct contradiction to zucchinis, winter squashes are anything but compact. In fact, pumpkins are annoyingly aggressive spreaders. We'd like to plant them at 5-6 feet in the row and 7-12 feet between rows, but that's just not good enough for us. The problem becomes evident by early July, when the squashes invade the tomatoes and/or get in the way of the lawn mower. Squashes are planted in mounds, a few seeds to a mound. They are thinned a few weeks later to one per mound. There's no reason to plant too early - Pumpkins can be planted in May, but should be planted in June for Halloween pumpkins.
Summer and winter squashes can both provide quite a bit of disappointment to a novice gardener - sometimes there are lots of flowers, but no melons. This is because these plants have female and male flowers - the female flowers have a little squash on the plant end of the flower, while the male plants just look like a flower on a stick. Bugs need to travel from the male flower to the female one to pollinate it, and this does not always happen. Additionally, sometimes there are only male or female flowers, so it just can't be done.
If both male and female flowers are out, you can pollinate them by taking a q-tip and carefully swiping the stamen of the male flower, then carefully rubbing that q-tip in the female flower. It sounds ridiculous, but it's not, and I know people who do this. I don't like zucchini (or pumpkins, or cucumbers) enough to bother. Here's a tutorial.
The biggest problem I have with squash is bugs. Squash bugs and stink bugs both bother my zucchinis, but the squash bugs are particularly damaging. They eat the leaves, they crawl all up in the stems, and the plant will actually die back. They tend to congregate and lay eggs on the bottom side of leaves, and you can pick off the bugs by hand or kill them with Diatomaceous Earth or other insecticides.
Winter squashes often get picked at the very end of the season. Illinois' Urban Extension puts it well:
"Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. Harvest the main part of the crop in September or October, before heavy frosts hit your area. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving two inches of stem attached if possible. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling. Fruits that are not fully mature, have been injured, have had their stems knocked off, or have been subjected to heavy frost do not keep and should be used as soon as possible or be composted (watch for seedlings in the compost)."
Many people on online forums say that they wait until the first frost to pick, but if the suqashes are ready much earlier - they begin to break off the vine, for instance - there's doubtful to be any harm in picking them when they're 'ready.'
How much do winter squash fertilizer recommendations vary? I'm copying my summer squash recommendations since the recommendations appear to be very similar:
- 1 Tbsp 6-10-10 per mound before planting, 1 Tbsp 33-0-0 after blooming and 3 weeks after (Purdue
- 1-2 lb. of complete fertilizer (like 5-10-5 or 12-12-12) before planting (more focused on nitrogen if the soil is heavily amended), 'light fertilizing' with nitrogen every 3-4 weeks thereafter (Cal Master Gardeners)
- 1 Tbsp 5-10-10 per mound before planting, plus every month thereafter. (SFGate)
- 1.5 lb. 10-10-10 per 100 square feet (BVG)
Again, to copy from Illinois' Urban Extension: "Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. For prolonged storage, do not pile squash more than two fruits deep. It is preferable, where space allows, to place the fruits in a single layer so that they do not touch each other. This arrangement minimizes the potential spread of rots."
Matt's Garden Notes:
Matt's 2013 Map
2011: Grew one pumpkin, actually grew very well although they often got run over by the lawn mower. Later in the season, it got powdery mildew, which was likely due at least in part to my overhead watering - it's no smart to leave water on the leaves or they'll be prone to mildews. Later in the year, the pumpkins all rotted from the inside out - I don't know why to this day. Related to the mildew? Was it bugs?
2013: trying butternut squash and pumpkins, two of each. Spreading like hell, but little fruit as of mid-July. Starting to get more yellow leaves as of July too, not sure what to make of it yet.
Recipes using Winter Squash: