Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Difference Between Summer Squash and Winter Squash

When I first started gardening I always planted yellow crook-neck squash and zucchini.  I always got a ton of squash.  We would eat squash until we were sick of it.  Then we’d give squash to the neighbors until they pulled the drapes and quit coming to the door.  Finally we’d start throwing it out into the woods.  But by November the squash season would end and before long we’d be craving fresh squash.  I tried every possible way to store squash.  I tried canning, freezing, and drying.  It just didn’t taste anything like fresh squash.  I could, of course, have bought fresh squash at the grocery store, but my blood boiled at the thought of paying $1.79 a pound for something that I was throwing away two months earlier. That’s when I discovered winter squash.
Now, don’t let the name fool you.  You might think that winter squash is some kind of squash that grows in the winter.  It does not.  When the frost comes, winter squash plants die just like summer squash plants.  The difference is that winter squashes have a thick, hard skin that allows them to be stored for a long time, so you can eat them far up into the winter.

Examples of winter squash are Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, and Spaghetti Squash.  All of these are available as heirlooms, so you can save the seeds to replant.  You need to plant winter squash in the early to mid-summer to allow time for them to produce before the first frost.  Around where I live that means planting in early to mid July since our first frost is usually in mid-November.

It’s best to harvest winter squash before it gets a frost on it.  Squash picked after a frost will not store as long.  You only want to store blemish free squash.  It is best to cut the squash from the vine leaving a couple of inches of stem.  After harvesting, you should set the squashes out in a warm, dry place to cure for a couple of weeks.  Set the squashes so that they’re not touching.

After the squashes are cured you store them in a cool, dry, place and they will keep for a good while.  Acorn squash will keep for about a month.  Spaghetti squash will keep a little longer.  Butternut Squash (which makes a great soup) will store for as much as six months.  So, if you play your cards right and pick the right varieties, you can have fresh squash nearly year round.

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