Winter squash are gorgeous edible decorations
Oh, glorious squash. Indeed, fall is here when I see bins of winter squash adorning the grocery store entryways.
I’ve learned to love winter squash in my adult years by growing it, roasting it and pureeing it into soups, though as a child I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it unless it was drowned in sugar and butter.
I love winter squash. It’s one of the only garden harvests that you can keep around for a while as a makeshift table decoration that seems like you did it on purpose to dress up the house. Unlike the runaway tomatoes in various states of ripening on my counter, winter squash in its carnival of striped colors, warts and knobbiness is a bastion of autumn and a truly gorgeous edible decoration.
Somehow, I’ve avoided amputating digits as I carved winter squashes’ rinds to expose their flesh for roasting. Many a horror story of altercations with Hubbard squash exist out there, which usually end with a trip to an emergency room and stitches.
But that hard, unforgiving rind is there for a reason: protection! If kept in cool, dry conditions, winter squash can last a few months. That’s why we call them “winter squash,” because they’re meant to be eaten in the winter, as opposed to “summer squash,” such as zucchini or pattypan squash, which we eat in the summer.
If you’re staring at the bin of winter squash at the grocery store entrance, wondering if you could grow those, the answer is yes. But there are some things to consider before dedicating a spot in your garden plot to these plants next spring.
Always pay attention to the amount of time it will take for the squash to mature. We have a shorter growing season here in the Grand Valley than some other places in the United States. Choose a squash that takes 80–100 days to mature, and make sure to plant early and protect the seedlings so they get a good start.
If you choose a variety that requires a longer growing season, you will need to start that plant earlier inside, in a greenhouse or in a protected area so it has enough time to produce fruit that matures. One of the most disappointing experiences I’ve had as a gardener is planting long-season squashes and watermelons, only to have them cut off by a hard freeze when they’re oh-so-close to maturation.
I’ve had a few folks ask if they can save seeds from squash they purchase at the grocery store and try to grow the same squash from those seeds next year in the garden.
My response is that it is unlikely you will end up with the same results as the squash you harvested the seeds from, but it can be an interesting experiment. I’ve accidentally performed this experiment in my compost pile before, by throwing a rotten squash or some seeds into the compost and voila! There’s a mystery compost squash that pops up in the summer. But my experience has been that rarely does that mystery squash resemble anything I’ve grown before.
There are a few explanations for that: First, if the squash that produced seeds was a hybrid, the plant may be a throwback to another generation. Second, if the seeds were actually a product of cross-pollination in the garden (with the other curcubits I grew that season) it could be any combination of a variety of plants that grew nearby.
By the way, if you missed out on growing your own this year (or you don’t have a large enough yard to accommodate for their sprawling vines), it’s not too late to take advantage of squash-eating season. Just be sure to look for mature squashes — the rind should be hard, not mushy.
When choosing an acorn squash, it’s actually a good sign if you see an orangeish spot on it. That’s where the squash rested on the ground when it was maturing on the vine and it’s a sign that the squash fully ripened and will be sweeter when you eat it.
Just FYI, acorn squash is one of the few winter squashes out there that should be eaten within a few weeks of harvest. Hubbard squash also should be eaten soon, but butternut squash and other winter squash varieties benefit from a storage period after harvest, so the sugars develop in the flesh and you have tastier results.
ON ANOTHER NOTE…
It’s time to apply for the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener program.
Get your applications in now — they’re due Nov. 23. If you want to learn more about successful, research-based garden techniques and how to be a better gardener in western Colorado, consider signing up for the 11-week training program.