Winter squash refers to different squash species within the Cucurbita genus. An annual vegetable, the winter squash requires maturity before it is suitable for cooking and eating. One way to know if a winter squash is ready for harvest is when the rind has hardened. It is called winter squash because after harvesting it, you can store it and have vegetables to eat come winter. Unlike the other classification of squash (summer squash), winter squash typically has inedible rind or skin.
There are four species that produce different types of winter squashes – Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita argyrosperma, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita pepo. Each species has several cultivars. A known cultivar of Cucurbita argyrosperma is the cushaw squash.
Below are some of the cultivars of the winter squash Cucurbita maxima:
- Ambercup squash
- Arikara squash
- Atlantic Giant
- Banana squash
- Buttercup squash
- Georgia candy roaster
- Hubbard squash
- Jarrahdale pumpkin
- Kabocha – “Hokkaido squash”
- Lakota squash
- Mooregold squash
- Red kuri squash (which is also known in some parts of the world as “orange Hokkaido squash” and “baby red Hubbard squash”)
- Turban squash
Below are some of the cultivars of the winter squash Cucurbita moschata:
- Butternut squash
- Dickinson pumpkin
- Long Island cheese pumpkin
- Fairytale pumpkin squash
- Kent pumpkin
Below are some of the cultivars of the winter squash Cucurbita pepo:
- Acorn squash
- Carnival squash
- Delicata squash
- Field pumpkin
- Heart of gold squash
- Spaghetti squash
- Sweet dumpling squash
- Autumn cup squash
- Gold nugget squash
- Sugar Loaf squash
Winter Squash Trivia
- Spaghetti squash wasn’t popular in the US and Europe until it rose to popularity during the 1970s.
- Calabaza plants are monoecious – the plant having both male and female reproductive organs.
- Acorn squash is a botanical fruit but it is commonly treated and used as a culinary vegetable.
- Butternut squash is 86% water.
Winter Squash Buying Guide
Winter squash is sold in groceries, supermarkets, farmers markets, farm stands, and stores selling produce.
When picking a winter squash, pick the one that feels firm. If the squash feels too soft that you might punch a hole in it if you push your fingers against it, that’s not a good winter squash. Also, check the condition of the skin or rind of the winter squash – there should be no blemishes or unnatural marks or discoloration, or any holes. It is also important to check the stem and make sure it is intact. Do not buy winter squash without its stem, unless there is no other choice.
Typically, you’ll see squash sold whole. But some kinds of winter squash are sold pre-cut in chunks like the banana squash. Hubbard squash is also sold pre-cut, the seeds removed.
Mind the color of the winter squash too, when buying. A very orange acorn squash is usually tough and fibrous and not the best for cooking and eating. A strong orange color is only a good sign if you are buying butternut squash – if it is very orange, then it is ripe and sweet and delicious. For carnival squash, the color to look for is green, which indicates that the squash is ready for cooking and eating, but not yet overripe.
Some winter squash types have edible skin, like delicata squash and butternut squash, while some have inedible skin like the buttercup squash (so be careful when buying and pay attention to the name).
Winter Squash Production & Farming in Texas
Despite its name winter squash, this vegetable is actually frost-tender. You cannot plant winter squash when the soil is still cold. The ideal soil temperature for winter squash seeds to germinate is 21 to 35 °C (70 to 95 °F) – the warmer, the better.
Winter squash grows well when there is enough sunlight and organic matter in the soil. The soil should have a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 and it should be well-draining to avoid root rot especially in the early stage of plant growth. You can start planting seedlings indoors and transplant them in the garden outside when they have grown and become stable. You can plant winter squash either in a garden or a pot. If you are considering planting companion plants, the best options would be dill and marigold. These plants attract tachinid flies which in turn feeds on squash bugs – a common pest attacking winter squash.
Winter squash is grown in many places in the state of Texas.
Mind the weeds, particularly pigweed, cocklebur, lance leaf sage, johnsongrass, nutsedge, black nightshade, silverleaf nightshade, and devils claw. Weeds are detrimental to the crop. They compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients, and as a result, the plant exhibits reduced yields and the size of the fruit is usually smaller as a result of weed problems. That is not all. Weeds also host pathogens, viruses, and insects. Because of these reasons, it is important to rid weeds around your winter squash plant.
Harvest time for winter squash happens around September to October. Winter squash can grow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 9. This means it can grow anywhere in Texas. The hardiness zone spectrum covering Texas ranges from 6 to 9B.
Winter squashes are a favorite target of many different pests.
- Aphids – Kill aphids using neem oil, insecticidal soap, or horticultural oil. You can also use the pesticide malathion, which is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide in the United States, or rotenone, a selective, non-specific insecticide typically used in home gardens for insect control.
- Cucumber Beetles – The use of man-made pesticide carbaryl or Beauveria bassiana is the solution to rid of flea beetles.
- Cutworms – Pesticides such as carbaryl will kill cutworms attacking your spearmint. Pyrethroid insecticides like cyfluthrin and the insecticide permethrin are also useful for this purpose.
- Leafminers – Use spinosad against leafminers.
- Spider mites – To get rid of spider mites, use neem oil and apply it through foliar spraying. It contains azadirachtin which is effective against spider mites. You can also use horticultural oil (which also targets aphids and thrips). Pests die after exposure to horticultural oil due to suffocation since the oil blocks the spiracles through which insects breathe. Another effect of horticultural oils is disrupting the metabolism of insect eggs. Lastly, horticultural oils disrupt the insect’s ability to feed. As a result, the insect starves to death. Using pyrethrin spray is also an effective method against spider mites. Another option is spinosad, a mixture of two chemicals called spinosyn A and spinosyn D typically used to control a wide variety of pests.
- Squash bugs – The use of man-made pesticide carbaryl is the solution to rid of squash bugs.
- Squash vine borers – Use man-made pesticide carbaryl, broad-spectrum, pyrethroid-based insecticides like permethrin, or the pyrethroid insecticide bifenthrin to rid your acorn squash of vine borers.
- Thrips – To kill thrips, there is a wide array of options to choose from: horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, anti-parasite spray spinosad, or pyrethrin pesticides with piperonyl butoxide.
Different winter squash species and cultivars have different geographic origins. For example, the spaghetti squash originated in America but historians do not know for sure if it is in North America or Central America. The calabaza squash is common in the West Indies, in the Philippines, and select tropical parts of the United States. Major producers of calabaza squash are China, India, Ukraine, and Russia. In the US, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California produce calabaza squash. Acorn squash is indigenous to North and Central America. Native Americans were the first to introduce acorn squash to Europeans. Today, China, India, Russia, Mexico, and Costa Rica are major producers of acorn squash, as well as the US, specifically the states of Florida and California. Hubbard, which is half of the hybrid butternut squash, originated in northern Argentina. In the US, winter squash such as butternut squash is grown in many parts of the country but it is Michigan, New York, and California that has the most when it comes to production. North America is a major player in worldwide butternut squash production.
Winter squashes are usually sold without any type of packaging, primarily because their thick skin and rind already provide it with a layer of protection, keeping the flesh inside safe from any potential contamination while out on display. In some supermarkets or groceries, they cover squashes with plastic wrap.
Enjoying Winter Squashes
Winter squash is delicious and flavorful. Each type of winter squash has its own unique flavor profile. But the taste does not vary so much that you can still substitute other types of winter squash if you don’t have the type of winter squash the recipe originally asks for. There are some types of winter squash that have edible flowers, seeds, and leaves.
It is important that you know how long a particular cultivar of winter squash stays fresh and in good condition in storage because some winter squash you can keep for more than a month while others can stay in good condition for more than one month. Spaghetti squash can stay fresh for weeks in storage. Acorn squash, sugar pumpkins, kabocha squash, and carnival squash are safe to store for as long as one month. Both buttercup and butternut squashes as well as delicata squash, turban squash, and sweet dumpling squash will keep for 3 months. Banana squash can last for 6 months in storage.
There is a long list of food that you can make using winter squash. You can bake, roast, steam, saute, or just microwave acorn squash. Just cut it in half and stuff it with meat, cheese, vegetables, and other ingredients for a savory or sweet dish. Because it is versatile, you can cook it using a wide variety of herbs and spices; for example, sweet dumpling squash pairs well with honey and thyme, while turban squash is great with cilantro. Use winter squash like buttercup squash to make coffee cakes. Use winter squash as a substitute for making mashed potatoes (make mashed squash instead), or delicata squash which tastes like sweet potatoes. Use your butternut squash to make soups and purees. If you have a hubbard squash, a great way to cook this is by making squash pie, or use kabocha squash to make tempura. And if you are looking for a low-calorie alternative to pasta, scrape the soft spaghetti squash for the perfect healthy vegetable pasta.
When you eat winter squash, your body gets a healthy dose of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber from a low-calorie food. Winter squash is an inexpensive source of vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, tryptophan, iron, and beta-carotene.
When Are Winter Squash in Season in Texas?
To find out when Winter Squash are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.