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Tips for Growing the Best Winter Storage Vegetable – Winter Squash!

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This overlooked garden gift is easy to grow, high in nutritional value, and can be stored all winter…

By Greg Seaman, Posted Aug 5, 2011

winter squashThis week our family is eating the last of the stored winter squash, the longest ‘keeper’ of the 36 we harvested last summer from our backyard garden. Since last October’s harvest, we’ve been able to enjoy one squash per week for almost nine months!

Winter squash are fairly large, and there is usually enough ‘meat’ from the squash to use in three or four meals, so more than half of our meals have included squash in one form or another. Since we save seeds from previous squash crops, the cost of growing this nutritious vegetable has been next to nothing.

The produce manager at a nearby supermarket told me that winter squash is not that popular, and he thinks this is because people don’t know what to do with squash. This is a shame, since squash is as versatile as potatoes. It can be simply cubed and steamed, or mashed, or fried into squash cakes, mashed and added to enrich soups and stews, made into fancy ‘squash puffs’ or even used in dessert recipes, such as squash pie.

The health benefits of winter squash are as rewarding as its rich taste. The bright orange color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. In particular, winter squash contains high levels of beta-carotene (which your body converts to vitamin A), identified as a deterrent against breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration, as well as a supporter of healthy lung development in fetuses and newborns. What’s more, with only a 1-cup serving, you get nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.

The health benefits of winter squash are as rewarding as its rich taste

As if this weren’t enough, winter squash may have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Over the years we’ve grown different varieties of winter squash, and we’ve come to find that Buttercup (not Butternut, another common squash) is our favorite – it tastes delicious and, most importantly, it stores well. We used to grow 8 – 10 plants in hopes of harvesting 30 or more squash, but have since learned that it’s easier and conserves garden space to grow just 2 – 3 plants in the richest soil we can provide. Last summer, our three plants yielded 36 winter squash.

Here are our tips for growing your own winter bounty of Buttercup squash.

1. Start by choosing the best seeds.

seedsOver the winter, some squash in storage begin to show signs of going bad. We rotate the drying squash every few weeks and inspect for mold on the bottom or soft spots in the husk. These are the first to be eaten. The squash that last the longest seem to be the hardiest, so we save seeds from the last remaining squash in early spring.

Before planting, pre-soak the seeds overnight in a small tuna can.


2. Choose a planting location with space for the runners.

Squash can be planted in a relatively small garden bed, but since it grows along the ground like a vine, the runners with their large leaves will need lots of room to roam. We position our squash on the north side of grassy areas. This has a double benefit – the runners have the room they need to spread as the plant grows, and the large leaves serve to shade the grass beneath so that the grass does not need to be cut during much of the summer.

Once the plant is established and the runners begin to spread, you can pick the runners up by the end and redirect them away from garden pathways or other garden beds.

3. Plant several seeds in a cluster and give them a heat-boost to aid germination.

Once your garden bed is well prepared, plant six seeds in a circle about the size of a large plate. After lightly watering the soil, a piece of clear plastic is set on top. The purpose of the plastic is to help warm the chilly spring soil to entice the seeds to sprout quickly. After a few days the first sprouts will appear, and the plastic has to be removed right away to prevent burning the young sprout or inhibiting its growth. Once the remaining sprouts are up, simply choose the one which looks the most vigorous, and pull the other weaker sprouts.






4. Apply mulch after the first leaves are formed.

Once the seedling is established and begins to form leaves, put down a layer of mulch. Pull the mulch a few inches away from the stem, since squash is susceptible to stem rot. (Some gardeners will plant squash in a small mound to ensure that water is directed away from the stem.) The mulch keeps the surface soil moist and helps disperse water evenly into the surrounding soil.



5. Pick off new flowers once most of the fruit is set.

As the large leaves spread across the ground you will notice the turban-shaped fruit developing. As the fruit gets large and begins to ripen to a dark green color, you can pick off new flowers which won’t have time to fully develop and ripen. This enables the plant to direct its energy to the ripening fruit.


6. Set a plate under each ripening squash.

The large ripening squash are susceptible to rot as they lay in wet grass, so we’ve taken to setting a plate under any squash that looks to be in a moist location. The plate must be inverted so that no puddle can form. Another option is to set the squash on crossed sticks. Anything that will help separate the squash from the moist ground will help prevent mold from developing on the fruit.

7. Harvest the squash when the vines die back, and store in a warm, dry area.

Squash stores best in warm, dry spots, with good air circulation. We used to store squash in the pantry but the damp air encouraged mold to grow and spoil the stored fruit. Now we store our squash indoors on shelves where it’s easy to access. Every few weeks we rotate the squash to ensure even curing, and this gives us chance to inspect the bottom for any sign of mold. If we do see mold, or feel any soft spots on the husk, then the squash is set aside for eating.

Even if you don’t have a developed garden, a few squash plants can be grown where space allows, and you will be able to enjoy one of the most nutritious winter vegetables with very little effort or expense.

Jan’s Hearty Winter Squash and Peanut Soup

Squash Soup

This filling soup makes about 3 quarts, but it halves easily, and freezes well. The extra milk at the end can be added when it is thawed and heated, saving freezer space.

  • 1 Tb. oil
  • 3 c. cut up winter squash, raw or cooked
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4 1/2 c. water or chicken broth
  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1/3 c. smooth peanut butter
  • 2 Tb. fresh grated ginger or dried ginger powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook together the oil, onion and celery. Cover and stir occasionally until onion is translucent. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer until veg’s are tender, about 1/2 hr. Puree in a blender in batches. Cool if freezing. Five min. before serving add extra milk or cream to heat. Taste for salt. Pretty topped with dollop of yogurt, sour cream and/or minced chives or parsley.

Greg Seaman is the founder and editor of Eartheasy.

Posted in Organic Garden Tags , , ,
  • selene

    Thanks for such detailed instructions. You make it look easy Greg, but I think you have a seriously green thumb!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Selene, but anyone can grow like this. The key is soil condition – in these beds the soil is deep but light. You can stick your hand easily into the soil up to your wrist. We amend our soil with peat moss (for lightness), lime, rock phosphate (every few years) and canola meal (for fertilizer). Oh, and compost of course, when available.
      Then keep the plant well mulched. This prevents the soil surface from drying out and crusting over.

  • ybfdskl

    Found your blog and decided to have a quick read, not what I normally do but nice one. Nice to see a blog for a change that isn’t full of spam and rubbish, and actually makes some sense. Anyway, nice write up.

  • Green Baby Mama

    We’re up to our eyeballs in zucchini still but looking forward to winter squash! There’s nothing like the bright orange color of pumpkins in the fall!

    Their striking colors are not the only thing that I like about them; their nutritional value is worth scouring the net to find recipes that my girls (with their many, many food allergies) can eat. With their compromised immune systems, they need all of the vitamins and minerals that I can sneak into every meal.

    I’ve read that most varieties of winter squash offer alpha, beta, and gamma carotene-family phytochemicals which studies suggest reduce cancer risks and boost the immune system. Growing my own organic vegetables is not just part of my plan for maintaining a green home and saving money, it gives me hopes of giving my husband and daughter a better chance at regaining their health and giving them more energy. Thanks for the tips! I can use them because all of this does not come naturally to me. My thumb seems at times to be every color BUT green!

  • Henrick

    I love gardening. Thanks for introducing me to the idea of plucking new flowers so the squash can concentrate its nutrients to the developing fruits. Keep on gardening! Henrick

  • The squash looks very healthy.
    In the Philippines where I live, we don’t have winter squash, just an ordinary squash that grows in the tropics. I’ve experienced planting squash and the stems and leaves scatter over the soil surface. I’m not really good in agriculture so I will definitely ponder these tips of yours. I suppose all kinds of squash are all the same.
    Thanks a lot for these tips.

  • kocaeli yurtları

    Nice post. we follow you everytime. thanks a lot

  • jacque smith

    Nice Pics…………Its EverGreen…..

  • My old man grows these on his alotment, taste pretty nice. havent had one for years though and this looks like a really great guide. might even given my dad some tips lol.

  • suachuabachkhoa

    It is important for soil to be light. Thank you for introducing me to the idea

  • Adeel

    Thanks for beautifully explained details. it’s really a very fruitful info…

  • David

    Thanks for the squash soup recipe. It will come in handy for this gardener!

  • U.Rose

    Hi, Admin
    Thanks for sharing so nice information, You know I was really crazy to find this article, because I need some information to complete my assignment and Now I have done,, “One Million Tons Thanks”
    You Know I am also a student of Agriculture and doing 4 year Bachlour program with “Plant Breeding And Genetics”. I love the way you blogging, the most interested thing in you post is “Explaination with picutures” because it make the post more clear and easy.

    • Journey218

       Please, U. Rose–you really need to watch your spelling.  Working on a four year Bachelor degree and can’t spell!  OMG!!!!  Also, you have missing words , wrong tense words and so on.

      • Shea

        How rude and unnecessary, Journey218. He/she is OBVIOUSLY not a native English speaker, and is simply trying to express his/her thanks for the great information in this article.

        Thank you for the information, Greg. I look forward to growing my own very soon!
        Happy gardening 🙂

  • Great Tips!! I’m going to make my list now. I love gardening. You are giving us good information.

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