Tips for Growing Winter Squash

Tips for Growing Winter Squash

What is the difference between Summer and Winter Squash? Mostly the growing time. Both types of squash are planted in early summer; the winter squash takes longer to mature and become fully ripe, about 80-120 days. Winter squash are also tough-skinned.

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Like summer squash, there are many types of winter squash:

  • Butternut: Resistant to squash vine borers; light brown rinds. Can be vining or bush type.
  • Buttercup: Produce squat, green fruit, average 3-5 pounds each on long vines.
  • Hubbard squash: Attractive to squash vine borers, but drought resistant. Deep orange or gray-green fruit.
  • Delicata and Dumpling squash: Single-serve size ivory fruits with green stripes on a mid-sized vine. It also has a short growing season.
  • Acorn squash: Gold or green rinds, round fruits, short season crop. Also vining or bush types.
  • Spaghetti squash: A yellow fruit, full of stringy fibers that resemble pasta or spaghetti.

Planting:

Plant squash in early spring, after the soil has warmed up. You can also plant in early summer until 14 weeks before first frost. Later plantings will avoid most of the damage from insect pests. Seedlings emerge in 14-30 days, and harvest is approximately 80-120 days.

Plant the seeds in a spot with full sun and rich soil amended with compost and fertilizer. The soil must be kept moist and well-drained and not soggy. Plant seeds 1″ deep, 60″ apart. Vining winter squash plants grow long vines. Put row covers in place immediately after you plant.

Mulch heavily to protect the roots, cut down on weeds and keep the soil moist. Water the ground, not the leaves, to cut down on mildew. Side dress with fertilizer when the first flowers appear.

Growing Tips:

Squash have two types of flowers-male and female. Don’t be alarmed if some flowers fall off without producing fruit-they were probably the male flowers. Female flowers, identified by a small bulb at the base of the flower, will produce the fruit.

Attract bee pollinators by planting flowers like daisies, sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias and cone flower, and herbs like mints bee balm, sage, oregano and lavender.

When the vines are about 5 feet long, pinch off the growing ends to encourage side shoots that also bear fruit. By mid-summer, the vine will have produced all the fruit it will; pinch off any flowers to encourage the plant to concentrate on growing the fruits. Place the fruit on a board or bed of mulch to avoid rot.

Insect Pests:

Winter squash is still susceptible to squash bugs (grayish brown bugs and red-brown egg clusters on the underside of leaves. Hand pick in morning or evening; in mid afternoon, they are alert and will fly away.), squash vine borers (orange and black moth, lays red and orange eggs at the base of the plant. Look for sawdust-like droppings. Kill the larvae, as was detailed in the Summer Squash post. Protect the vines with row covers until they begin to flower.

Plant radish, nasturtiums and marigolds to deter these pests.

Mildew can be controlled by crop rotation and destroying affected plants

Protect your plants from egg-laying insect pests by using row covers. You will have to remove the cover so bees and other insects can pollinate the flowers. However, you can also hand pollinate using a small paintbrush to move the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.

Beneficial insects like braconid wasps, trichogramma wasps, or tachinid flies can be attracted with alyssum or yarrow, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, lavender, mint, dill, sage, fennel or lemon balm.

Check often for bugs and eggs on the underside of the leaves. Pick bugs off, and drop then into soapy water. Scrape the eggs off with a butter knife or your fingernail. Eggs hatch in about 10 days.

Harvesting:

Don’t cut the fruit from the vine too early. It will be ripe if you cannot pierce the rind with a fingernail.

Allow them to grow until the vines begin to die back. Cut with a pruning shears, leaving about 2″ of vine with the squash and allow to cure for two weeks indoors in 70-80 degree temperatures. After they have cured, store in a cool dry place.

Pick ripe fruit before any expected frost; cover any unripe fruit with a heavy mulch. Harvest in dry weather with a sharp knife.

Saving Seeds:

Saving winter squash seeds is simpler than saving summer squash seeds. Use open pollinated varieties rather than hybrid. Remember to isolate varieties from each other, or from summer squash. Pick out the largest, plumpest seeds, rinse, dry and store.
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