November 2003

Winter Squash – Cucurbita maxima

Origin: Mexico



This month will focus on a particular group of plants within a genus, the winter squash. They differ from summer squash in that it is harvested and consumed in the mature stage, when the seeds have matured and the skin hardened into a tough rind. Winter squash gets its name from the fact that most varieties can be stored throughout the winter. This is a great way to have tasty, nutritious meals for you and your birds all year round.  In fact many cooks prefer winter squash to pumpkin because they make a non-fibrous pie.

Adapted to a wide range of growing situations, winter squash comes in two types, vining which requires a large garden and bush, which can be grown in small gardens. I've even managed to grow a fruit producing one in a large container. Regardless of the type, all do need some "elbow room".

Squash seeds do not germinate in cold soil and seedlings are highly susceptible to frost. I generally will start my seeds indoors and transplant when the soil is warm and the danger of frost is past. The vining varieties should be planted in hills with at least 50 square feet of space (5 to 6 feet between hills and 7 to 12 feet between rows). Bush types should have about 3 feet between plants and 5 feet between rows.

Winter squash needs to be kept free of weeds and benefits from additional watering during dry periods. Once its vines cover the ground, it requires minimal care. It can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, overall color and the rind is hard. You should harvest before heavy frost hits. Cut the squash carefully, leaving approximately 2 inches of stem attached. Avoid bruising or damaging the fruits when handling because injured squash does not keep in storage.

Suggested Bush Varieties:


Suggested Vining Varieties: