I love the vast varieties of squash available to gardeners! From warty to smooth, from orange, yellow, gray, green, to white colors, and with endless shapes, squash provide variety and interest to your garden.
Squash have been feeding the world since the beginning. Heirloom varieties have unique and intriguing histories. I love reading seed catalogs in the winter and planning out what squash will have a spot in my garden that spring. I always try new varieties as well as old time favorites.
I love the huge vines of winter squash that spread
through the garden, up the corn, and along fences.
Squash, both winter and summer, are members of the cucurbitaceae family. Summer squash are those varieties who fruit is eaten immature while the rind is soft and there are fewer seeds. Winter squash are allowed to reach full maturity and have hard rinds and mature seeds. Pumpkins are also in the squash family.
Squash, like all cucurbitaceaes, have tendril bearing vines and are heat loving. There are 6 different species of squash. Each species has unique stem, leaf, flower, and seed characteristics.
All squash of the same species will cross pollinate. Pollination is dependent on insects which randomly move pollen from flower to flower and plant to plant. Bees are important pollinators of squash both native and honey bees.
Each plant will produce both male and female flowers. Male flowers have a straight stem while the female flower have a small immature fruit at the base which is the ovary.
|A female flower|
Species of Squah
Long vines, huge hairy leaves, soft round spongy stems. The seeds are thick white or tan or brown seeds with a cream colored margin. The seeds also have a thin cellophane coating.
|Jarrahdale Pumpkin a blue gray color and ribbed extremely long vines. The flesh is orange and great for pumpkin pies.|
Included in this family are banana , Buttercup, hubbard, Jarrahdale, Kabocha, all giant pumpkins, and turban squash.
|Australian Butter Pumpkin|
|First time planting this variety|
Varieties of this species have spreading vines and large hairy leaves. The stem is hard, hairy and slightly angular. The leaves have a rounded leaf tip and few indentations along the margins. The white or tan seeds have pale margins and cracks in the seed coat on the flat sides of the seed. They also have a cellophane coating.
Includes most varieties of cushaw or sweet potato squash, all the wild seroria squash and silver seeded gourds.
C. moschata has spreading vines, hairy leaves with pointed leaf tip and slight indentations, the stem flares out where it attaches to the fruit with beige seeds with dark beige margins.
|Long Island Cheese|
Butternuts, all varieties of cheese, belong to this species. Long Island cheese is a favorite.
|The flowers of C. moshcata has large leafy sepals |
at the base of the flower.
|Long Island Cheese named because it resembles a cheese wheel|
All members have prickly leaves and stems. Stems hase 5 sharply angular sides. Seeds are cream colored and have white margins.
This species includes all summer squash and the warted decorative gourds found in grocery stores. C. pepo includes all varieties of acorn, cocozelle, crookneck, scalloped or patty pans, and zucchini.
|Only the warted pumpkin is of this species|
Malabar Gourds are of this species. They require a very long growing season and are best planted in frost free zones. The fruits have greenish, cream mottled skin and flat black seeds and the leaves resemble fig leaves.
(Seed to Seed, Suzanne Ashworth) Cucurbita foetidissima
C, foetidissima are known as buffalo gourds with light gray arrowhead shaped leaves that will emit an unpleasant odor when brushed. The 4" diameter fruits are not eaten; however, the seeds are pressed for oil. This plant also grows best in frost free zones.
|Coyote or Buffalo Gourd growing wild next to my field garden.|
These grow wild in my area. They are also known as coyote gourds or wild pumpkin. They are perennials sending out vines from a large tuberous root that can be 16 inches in diameter and extend 3 ft into the ground. The fruit or gourd is striped and only 3-4 inches in diameter
Buffalo gourds are very drought tolerant with a history of use by native Americans. The root was used for medicines, the seeds were eaten, and the gourd dried and used in rituals as a rattle.
The leaves when crushed give off a foul odor and which was used as an insect repellant. The root foams when water is added and was used as shampoo and for laundry soap. Do not eat the gourds or leaves as they are toxic. (Medicinal Plants of the South West, University of New Mexico)
Cultivating Summer and Winter Squash
Squash are best direct seeded in the garden. They do not like their roots disturbed when transplanted. If you are trying to start seeds early transplant when they have 1-2 sets of true leaves.
Squash are a warm season crop germinating best in soil temperatures of 70 degrees.
Before planting the seeds, incorporate organic matterand a handful of dry organic fertilizer into the soil. Plant 2-3 seeds above the amended area and then thin to one health plant after true leaves appear. Squash will appreciate an occasional feedings of fish emulsion and kelp. Also mulch around seedlings after they emerge. Even moisture is important.
I probably get more questions on how to deal with squash pests, mainly the squash bugs, than any other pest. It is possible to manage this pest organically.
Success in managing any pest is to know your enemy. What I mean is to be able to recognize it at all stages. Squash bugs undergo compete metamorphosis meaning that the bug looks different at each stage.
Here is the squash bug in all stages:
|Bronze colored eggs laid usually laid on the underside of leaves in-between the veins.|
|The nymph which resembles a small grayish, black this is the ideal stage to kill the squash bugs. Adults are harder to kill.|
- Unmated adults overwinter in debris and in structures.
- In April or May the adults emerge and fly to cucurbit crops to mate and lay eggs. In southern Utah 2 generations are possible.
- The female lays up to 250 eggs
- The new generation will appear in June or Julyand feed on the host plant to build up reserves for winter.
Because the adults can develop resistance to insecticides, even OMRI insecticides, good cultural practices are necessary to manage this pest
Monitor for squash bugs
- examine the leaves looking for eggs smash rub off any you find.
- Watch for signs of feeding damage which include yellowing and browning leaves.
- Heavy feeding results in leaves turning black and crisp or wilting of leaves.
- Squash bugs feed on vines, leaves, and the fruit with piercing sucking mouth parts. They feed on the sap and can disrupt the flow of water in the xylem.
|Check the base of plant for nymphs|
Cultural Practices to control squash bugs
- Examine plants weekly hand pick adults and remove eggs
- Maintain healthy plants through proper fertilizing, organic matter, and proper irrigation.
- Remove all plant debris including vines and fruit of all cucurbits that includes cucumbers and melons
- Rotate the your crops. Do not plant squash in the same spot every year. You can also plant squash every other year if populations of squash bugs are overwhelming.
- Plant as early as possible so plants are healthy and established before squash bugs emerge
- Late plantings also seem to work
These are most effective on nymphs with pyrethrin being effective on adults.
Pyrethrins: effective on adults be sure to use organic not synthetic. Pyrethrins kill on contact and affect the nervous system. Spray in early morning or evening to protect beneficial insects.
Neem: Growth inhibitor. Must be ingested and prevents molting and reproduction so it does not kill on contact. It is systemic and taken up in the plant tissues.
Spinosad: This is a bacteria or microbial insecticide effective on nymphs
Kaolin Clay or Surround: A protectant which discourages feeding
|If you have a large area consider using a tank that hooks to a |
I monitor a couple times a week. I remove eggs and hand pick any adults I see. Once I see nymphs I spray.
I add the following in one sprayer:
- Kaolin Clay
I spray and then recheck the next day and spray any I missed.
Look at the base of the plant where they congregate. Also if you monitor while irrigating the insects will come out of hiding and move to the top of the plant.
After my vines are very mature I let my ducks in the field they love squash bugs.
(Utah Pest Fact Sheet USU Extension)
|Healthy leaves no sign of squash bugs|
Patience is necessary when harvesting pumpkins and squash. The hard rind is what makes long term storage possible and that takes time. Plan your plantings to be harvested before a frost. If a frost is expected you can cover the fruit with a tarp or blanket.
Pumpkins and squash are ready to harvest when
the rind does NOT indent when pressed with your thumbnail. Some of the vines may have begun to die back and the color will be solid.
Cut don't pull or rip the squash from the vine. Leave a 2-3 inch piece of stem. If you break the stem use those up first because they will not store long.
Cure the squash or pumpkin for a week or two in sunlight. The exception is acorn squash. Put it in storage when harvested.
Store in a cool, dry well ventilated area that gets no colder than 50 degrees.
Delicata, acorn, and spaghetti squash can store up to 2 months
Pie pumpkins, hubbard, and buttercups store 4-6 months
Butternut and cumshaws store up to 8 months
I recommend you read about the storage length of the varieties you plant.
|Color will deepen and rind will harden as this ripens|
|Damaged or dent pumpkins and squash can be used for fall decorating.|