Reader Jeff of Nature Hills Nursery waxed eloquent in his comment on the post Harvest Frenzy, and I’d like to follow up on a topic he mentioned: getting your family to love squash.
Ok, we’ve all been there. After all, we were rookies once and planted a few extra seeds because they look so danged small in that cute little hill. Then they grew. And grew. Then they set fruit and the circus began.
Squash for dinner, squash for lunch. Squash in breads, muffins, pies, relishes, soups, ratatouille, and casseroles. Year after year, memories of the “zucchini incident” are shared at family gatherings until you swear that when the day comes for them to inscribe your tombstone, they’ll write “Here lies a gardener, squashed in her prime.”
Were it only the zucchinis and crooknecks we might be ok, riding out the season of plenty until frost kills the plant. But no, the cucurbit family is large, and when you’re an inquisitive gardener you eventually expand your horizons, and plant winter squash.
Perhaps it starts with a pumpkin, the orange globe that brings a smile each fall. Then it could be an acorn or two, or possibly a buttercup, to go with a savory pork roast. Eventually you try spaghetti squash, delightful with a bit of pesto (oh, yes, readers. If you try nothing else this fall, try that). Finally, you branch out into the butternuts and delicatas, with sweet potato flavor that’s perfect mashed with a dab of butter, brown sugar and nutmeg.
Then you’re hooked, and growing the mammoths: Hubbards and Banana squash that top out at 25 to 30 pounds. These don’t grace your counter; they beach themselves on it. Once roasted their flesh can be frozen into recipe-sized amounts and feed you until spring.
If you’re growing winter squash, fall’s the time to gather your harvest. Speed ripening by cutting back the water to the plant, but do this slowly over a few weeks so you don’t interrupt growth of young squash. Pluck blossoms from the plant about mid-month to allow the plant to pump energy into the larger ones on the vine, and use the blossoms stuffed, fried, or sautéed for pasta.
Harvest your winter squash when the skin toughens and isn’t dented by pressure from a fingernail. But before this happens the skin is tender, so avoid wounding your fruit with a clumsy nail slash by watching for other signs of maturity, such as the stem drying out or the rind turning a deep color (some exceptions apply).
Cut the squash from the vine carefully, leaving at least two-and-a-half inches of stem attached to the fruit. If you’re growing petite squash and don’t have that much stem, do the best you can and don’t worry. The important part is to keep from snapping the stem from the squash or bruising the fruit in harvest.
And let’s talk about powdery mildew, a white fungal disease that attacks squash, killing back the plants. In fall, our plants look coated with frost because the mildew is so bad, primarily on the old foliage. You might have noticed that you can see more of the squash as the leaves die off from powdery mildew. Clearing out the dead leaves just leads to a sneeze-attack if you have allergies.
You might try potassium bicarbonate, Neem or Horticultural oil to keep the mildew down. For more on powdery mildew, check out the Front Range Food Gardener blog.