Growing winter squash varieties is a great way to add some color, nourishment, and flavor to your homesteading table. For the most gardening success, implement these proven methods when it's time to plant, grow, harvest, cure, and store your winter squash!
Growing winter squash varieties is so satisfying! They are some of my favorite plants in the garden! It's amazing that their shapes and sizes are as varied as their types.
They are part of the large family of gourds, but the harvesting and storing of winter squash is a little different than other gourd plants. To help you be successful, this guide to growing, harvesting, and storing winter squash has all the details you need!
Editor's Note: Before we get into the details, are you familiar with the Back to Eden gardening method? It changed our life -- and it's how we harvest 1500 lbs of food at the end of each growing season! Did I mention there's no weeding and no watering? Get your Back to Eden garden started the fast way!
Guide to Growing, Harvesting, and Storing Winter Squash Varieties
Winter squash do not produce a continuous harvest throughout the growing season like their cousins, summer squash, melons, and cucumbers. Each winter squash vine will bear just a few fruits (squash). These are left on the vine in the garden until all of them are completely ripened.
Every homestead gardener has their favorite variety of winter squash with the most common being butternut, pumpkin, acorn, and the ever-versatile spaghetti squash!
Growing Winter Squash
Winter squash has a long growing season. Based on the variety you choose to plant, it will be 80-120 days from planting seeds to harvest. You will have to know your planting zone’s date of expected first frost and plant in time to allow the squash to mature before freezing weather comes.
Plant seeds 1” deep, 3 to 4 seeds to a hill. There’s an old saying, “One for the mole, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow.”
A good rule of thumb is to allow 4 –6 feet between hills and rows to allow space for meandering vines. Some people swear by 4’ some swear by 6’. Decide what works best for your garden space.
Winter squash like to be moist their whole growth cycle so be sure to keep them well watered! Avoid cross pollination by “allowing 1,000 feet between plants of the same family” says a master gardener. Realistically, most people don’t have room to plant them this far apart... fear not! Cross pollination can be avoided with succession planting.
Succession planting is planting one variety in a family, waiting 3 weeks and then planting another variety in the same family. This way they can be only a few feet apart. I’ve never had a problem with cross pollination and mine are only 100 or less feet apart!
Harvesting Winter Squash
When you get your first light frost, it’s time to harvest your winter squash! They MUST NOT be allowed to freeze in the garden or in storage.
Freezing makes them inedible for humans but not for flocks or other livestock. When harvesting, remove the squash by cutting them from the vine, leaving at least a 1” stem.
Now it’s time to cure them before storing.
Curing Winter Squash
Curing is the crucial process of allowing the fruit to harden its rind and heal any superficial cuts before storing for winter. I garden in zone 8, so I harvest winter squash and leave them in the garden for a couple of weeks to cure.
If you live in an area where you can’t or don’t want to risk leaving them in the garden to cure, you can bring them indoors to cure.
Be sure they are kept warm and not touching one another until they are cured. This process takes about 2 weeks.
Storing Winter Squash
After your winter squash have cured, check them all carefully to see if there are any unhealed or bruised areas. If there are any, use these first and store them separately from the others to avoid exposing your cured fruits to decomposition gasses released from damaged ones.
Store them in warm places such as a heated room, or an attic since heat rises. Do not store them in damp places. Being humid or damp will cause rot.
Storing winter squash can be a challenge because of the space required due to their size. If you have room to store them in a single layer so they don’t touch, that’s perfect. If you don’t have this kind of space (and few do), place a thick layer of straw or hay between them and stack them the best you can.
Just remember to keep a check on them and immediately remove any that begin to spoil. As long as they can’t freeze and aren’t exposed to moisture, winter squash can be stored in any space you have available. I store mine on shelves installed in the laundry room.
Nutritional Value of Winter Squash
Winter squash are some of the more nutritious veggies to grow in your garden. This is helpful in winter when natural sources of certain vitamins are limited. Vitamins A and C are among their highest values. They are also rich in omega-3 fats, fiber, copper, potassium, B vitamins (2, 3, 6, and 12), calcium, vitamin K, magnesium, and iron.
Saving Seeds from Winter Squash
Seed saving doesn’t get any easier than this!
Choose your healthiest squash and use it first.When you cut it open to prepare it for cooking, remove the seeds. Put the seeds, along with any pulp not easily removed from them, into a quart or half-gallon jar. Fill the jar with clean, non-chlorinated water.
Place a dish towel or cheese cloth over the jar and let it sit on your counter for 24 hours. Give it a stir every now and then as you think about it.
The pulp will pull away from the seeds allowing fully developed, fertile seeds to sink to the bottom. Remove the floating pulp and undeveloped seeds from the top of the jar then drain the water from the good seeds and rinse them well.
Spread the rinsed seeds in a single layer on a clean, dry towel. Leave them on the counter to dry for 3-4 days, turning once or twice a day. When they’re completely dry, store them in a seed envelope or glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Be sure to put the seed name and year on the label! Store out of direct sunlight in a cool, dry place.
Properly stored seeds are viable for 5-7 years. (!!)
Fun Winter Squash Tip
Using a butter knife, your fingernails (if they’re strong enough!), or some other dull tool, barely scratch the name or fun design on the skin of a green squash while it's still on the vine!
The skin will heal over the scratches making raised scars in the rind in the shape of the scratches. This is especially fun to do with pumpkins. When it’s time to harvest, the kids will have great fun looking for the one with their name. They will never suspect they’re actually working!
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