When it comes to gardening and self-reliant food security, there’s a great deal of confusion in the general public’s mind about winter squash versus summer squash. Many people seem to think winter squash is something you plant in the fall or winter for winter harvest but actually the terms “winter” and “summer” have to do with the suitability of squash for storage, not when they’re grown.
Summer squash like zucchini, patty pan, and yellow crookneck squash are considered summer squashes. They are picked young (usually within 50-70 days), have more delicate skins, and don’t have a long shelf life which makes them impractical for storage during the fall or winter months. Theoretically you can let them age longer on the vine and allow their skins to cure to a more hardened state but that affects the taste to the point that most people don’t want to eat them. Basically they’re enjoyed as summer squashes – eaten fresh or preserved via canning or pickling.
It might surprise you to learn that winter squashes are actually planted at the same time as summer squashes. These include varieties like acorn, butternut, buttercup, delicata, and spaghetti squash, as well as a variety of pumpkins. These squashes are picked at maturity, rather than young like summer squashes, and develop thicker or harder skins as they ripen. Generally they require 80 to 100 days to reach this maturity, which is why you typically see them more prolifically in grocery stores at the end of summer or during fall months rather than in the middle of summer. Halloween pumpkins in October anyone? They are called “winter” squashes simply because, thanks to their thicker skins, they store well for several months, perfect for fall or winter storage.
When you’re plotting out what to plant this summer in your garden, don’t neglect your winter squashes. They are terrific sources of vitamins and minerals. Their flesh is fantastic in fall and winter soups, roasted or stuffed. Many squash varieties are also great sources of highly nutritious seeds.
They also provide a great deal of bang for your buck.
Squashes are usually sold by the pound and since they can easily weigh 5 pounds or more, can be quite pricey. However, a pack of squash seeds can cost as little as 20 cents and contains 25 or more seeds. You can also harvest the seeds from the squashes you buy for your dinner table. When you consider that one typical acorn squash plant can set easily half a dozen or more fruits, you can see that your savings over store squash and pumpkins are incredibly high by planting your own!
What I’m Planting in My Zone 5b Garden
For me, the garden is a wonderful space for growing quality food to cover all aspects of health and vitality. Whole foods are integral to our body’s ability to build, maintain and repair itself. Squashes are perfect foods for getting in tons of vitamins, minerals, fiber and more. They’re great sources for your daily vegetable servings but some also have seeds that are excellent for achieving your daily seed/nut requirements. Pumpkin seeds are tasty treats, especially the hull-less pumpkin kernels that come from Lady Godiva pumpkins. These are the green pepitas sold in stores and which aren’t tough like regular pumpkin seeds.
With a mind to meeting my vegetable and seed dietary requirements over the summer, fall and winter, this year I’m planting an assortment of squashes:
- Early summer crookneck
- Early white bush scallop
- Delicata squash
- Lady Godiva pumpkin
- Table king bush acorn
- Buttercup squash
- Golden hubbard squash
Currently I have butternut and spaghetti squashes sitting on my kitchen counter. Once I eat them and save their seeds, they’ll be planted as well this summer.
A Squash For All Seasons
You really can’t go wrong with including a variety of summer and winter squashes in your garden. They’re beautiful and delicious vegetables than can win over any palette. By planting your own, you’ll be controlling what’s used on them and how they’re grown. They’ll be healthier and cheaper too than anything at the store – which means your body and bank account will thank you! Who doesn’t love that?
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