winter squash harvest

Squash belong to two main families: winter squash, which is characterized by its hard shell, and summer squash, which has a soft, edible skin. Summer squash produces prolifically all summer long, providing plenty of starchy freshness for summertime barbeques, salads and breakfast breads. Winter squash has a longer growing season and requires ample growing space and warmth in the summer. However, growing winter squash is well worth the effort, as just a few squash can provide several pounds of food. Use our guide on how to grow squash and get squashed this gardening season!

squash patch

Summer squash ripen all summer long (as the name would imply), usually beginning in July, or 60 to 70 days after planting. Zucchinis, crooknecks and scallop (or pattypan) squash all belong to the group, and are delicious in stews, grilled, cold soups, raw in salads, in breads and even as veggie fries. Winter squashes like butternuts, pumpkins, hubbards, turbans and many more, are harvested once fully mature in the fall, usually 80 to 100 days after planting.

Although growing squash is easy and fairly hassle-free, the plants do require a fair bit of space, as they tend to spread as they mature. Summer squash won’t spread as much as winter squash, which can send its stalks, leaves and fruit up to 12 feet from the original plant. All squash seeds should be planted once your region has passed the last frost date by at least one week. Squash seeds will not germinate in cold soil, so make sure your soil is at least 60°F when planting. Starting seeds indoors is only necessary if your region has a very short growing season. Start seeds in 2 to 3-inch pots 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting, which can happen as soon as danger of frost has passed.

planting squash seeds

Both squash varieties do best when grown on hills, which should be spaced 4 to 8 feet apart. To eliminate weeding from the picture, lay black plastic or newspaper over your planting area, cut holes one-foot in diameter in each spot where you are placing a hill, and build a hill out of compost on top. Make sure the compost isn’t too rich, as this may cause problems, such as blossom-end rot later in the season. Sow 5 to 6 seeds per hill, push them about ½ inch into the soil and crumble fine soil on top. The plants can be thinned to 2 to 3 per hill once they have germinated. 

squash patch

Once the plants are established but not yet growing off the hills, lay straw on the plastic/newspaper. This will keep the fruit from rotting once it spreads out and you water the plants, as it wicks moisture. As well it blocks ultraviolet rays that break down plastic. Keep the hills weed-free and make sure they stay moist, but not too wet, throughout the season. The plants can also be fertilized lightly or watered with compost tea for healthy and tasty fruit.

 squash patch

Squash pests include vine borers and cucumber beetles, which need to be monitored and hand-picked and discarded. Butternut squash is one of the few varieties resistant to vine borers, so an excellent choice for a low-maintenance garden. Squash plants are also prone to powdery mildew, wilt and scab, all of which can be avoided by early morning watering close to the roots of the plant, avoiding too much watering of the leaves or blossoms. If these diseases do appear, remove any affected areas of the plant to deter spreading.

 winter squash patch

Summer squash can be harvested as soon as it grows 6 inches long, and will continue to produce fruit faster than you can probably eat it. Blanching and freezing summer squash is a great storage method, as are oven-baked or dehydrated veggie chips. Harvest winter squash after the first frost, as the leaves will die and it will be easy to see all of the colorful squash amidst the brown-green leaves. Winter squash keep incredibly well in a warm and dry environment (such as in your house on a wooden shelf), and their various flavors and smooth texture are ideal for hearty winter soups, roasts and baked goods.

Images: Myrtle Glen Farm, adrian valenzuela