Pumpkins and squash are indigenous to the Americas, and they were a huge part of the diets of many native cultures and early European settlers. High in vitamin A, potassium, beta-carotene and fiber, the long storability of these crops made them an important food staple, especially during the winter months. Today, we use these members of the Cucurbita genus as decorations as much as we use them as food.
What Are Hubbard Squash
One of my favorite species of the squash and pumpkin family is Curcurbita maxima. This species consists of the biggest fruited members of the family, including my all-time favorite winter squash, the Hubbard.
Hubbard squashes have thick rinds and a teardrop shape. Blue Hubbards have blue-gray skin, while golden Hubbards have bright-orange skin. Each Hubbard squash can weigh between 10 and 40 pounds, and their orange flesh is sweet and nutty, tasting a bit like sweet potato.
Although many folks think the bumpy texture of Hubbard squash is only useful as an autumn decoration, nothing could be further from the truth. These fruits can be baked, steamed, puréed or roasted. In fact, my favorite pumpkin pie is made with a blue Hubbard squash instead of traditional pumpkin. Try using it in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe, and you’ll quickly see how wonderful this fruit is.
Grow Long & Wide
Hubbard squash require 110 days to reach maturity, so if you’d like to grow some of your own, you’ll need to get started early. Sow seeds into peat pots three to four weeks before spring’s last frost is expected, then transplant the seedlings outdoors soon after the danger of frost has passed. You can also grow them by directly sowing the seeds into the garden as soon as the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees F, if you live in a region with long, warm summers.
Give Hubbard squash plants plenty of room to grow. Each plant can easily cover 100 square feet of garden space! Grow them up over a fence or sturdy arbor if you’re looking to save space. Like all members of the Cucurbita genus, Hubbard squash vines are monoecious, meaning the male and female flowers are borne separately on the same plant. The male flowers always open a few days in advance of the females, to ensure a good pollen supply. The female flowers have a swollen base and will be easily fertilized by bees and other pollinators.
Hubbard Squash Care
To maximize pollination, make sure there are plenty of flowering plants in and around your Hubbard squash patch. You’ll also need to mulch around your Hubbard plants while they’re still young. Use straw, untreated grass clippings or shredded leaves, placed in a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer around the plants. Not only does this reduce watering needs, it also keeps weeds at a minimum and keeps the fruits clean and off the ground.
Because Hubbard fruits are so large, your vines will need a lot of moisture throughout the growing season. Provide plants with at least 1 inch of water per week, whether from Mother Nature or the end of your hose.
Time To Harvest
You’ll know the squash are ripe when the skin hardens and the vines start to die. It should be tough to poke through the rind with your fingernail when the fruits are ready to be harvested.
Cut the squash from the vine with a sharp knife, making sure to leave a portion of the stem intact if possible. This reduces the chances of rot. Store your Hubbards in a root cellar or basement on sheets of cardboard. They’ll last for many months, giving you endless delicious winter meals.