(Cucurbita pepo) A popular winter vining squash that gets it name from the cooked flesh that falls away from the skin in spaghetti-like strands.
Produces medium-sized, cylindrical yellow fruit.
Excellent to bake and fork out for a hot pasta substitute with sauce, cold pasta salad with mixed vegetables, served simply with a bit of butter and salt.
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Despite their name, winter squash don't mind the heat and will grow all summer for a fall harvest that can be stored through the winter. Winter squash can take up to 110 days to mature, so plant early!
Sow outside 2-4 weeks after average last frost and when soil temperatures have risen above 60°F. Plant seeds 1⁄2 - 1 inch deep and 12 inches apart. Thin out seedlings after they emerge. Mature bush plants should be 20 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 feet apart. If growing a vine variety, planting in hills works well. Plant about 5 seeds per hill. After seedlings emerge and are established, thin to three plants. Stake or provide a trellis for vining varieties.
As with summer squash, consistent watering is key. Use mulch to help with maintaining soil moisture.
Bright yellow squash blossoms are irresistible to all sorts of bees, which makes these varieties very pollinator-friendly. If you find you don’t have enough pollinators though, you may need to provide some assistance in the pollination process. The first flowers that bloom are always males. These appear about 40-50 days after planting. A week later the female flowers develop, which are the ones that will produce the fruit after fertilized by the male flowers. So, to help with pollination, pick the first male blooms and brush them against the female blooms.
Pests & Disease:
Many gardeners are very familiar with the pests that love our squash. I know we have certainly encountered our fair share of challenges with them! There are several insects to look out for when growing squash.
Squash Bug: One of the most serious pests is the squash bug, a dingy brownish insect 1⁄2 inch or more long,. They resist most organic pesticides, so we handpick the bugs every couple of days to keep them in check. We look for their eggs, a little smaller than sesame seeds, shiny and orange-brown, usually clustered on the underside of the leaves and remove them with the sticky side of tape.
Cucumber Beetles: These yellow spotted or striped insects look a lot like ladybugs and can quickly spread bacterial wilt to the squash. They prefer cucumbers, but any cucurbit will attract them. If the vines suddenly wilt, it could be a symptom of bacterial wilt. Remove the infected parts of the plant, but be sure to disinfect your pruners before using them again. There is no treatment for bacterial wilt, so it is important to monitor frequently for cucumber beetles. We have also found yellow sticky traps to be highly effective.
Squash Vine Borers: The adult borer resembles a wasp. It is about 1/2 inch long with a red abdomen with black dots. The larvae can damage or destroy the plant by feeding through the center of the stems, blocking the flow of water to the rest of the plant. The larvae feed for four to six weeks, then exit the stems and burrow about one to two inches into the soil to pupate. They remain there until the following summer.
We have found using row covers early on in the season to be the best method of prevention for these pests. Be sure to remove the row cover once the plants start producing female flowers to make them available for the bees to pollinate.
Harvest just before the first fall frost before temperatures drop below 33°F. When the rinds of winter squash are tough enough to resist being punctured with a fingernail, cut them with a knife, leaving a short stub of vine attached. Be patient, because only fully ripened squash will keep for months in storage. Wipe clean and store in a cool, dry area.