Produce Profile: Fall Squash for Winter Dining

Pumpkins steal the show on front porches throughout the fall, but fall squash will get you through the cold winter months.

by Lisa Munniksma
PHOTO: pixel2013/Pixabay

Fall is the best food time of year, and fall squash are proof of that. I love fall squash so much, my friend and fellow Hobby Farm writer created our own holiday centering these vegetables: Squash Fest.

Fall is not, of course, the time of year to be planting fall squash, but this is the time of year to harvest it. It’s also the time to begin planning for next year’s fall squash crop.

What is Fall Squash?

Fall squash are part of the cucurbit family—close relatives of summer squash, zucchini and patty pan. These fall varieties mature to have tough skins that allow them to keep for months after harvest with no refrigeration. In fact, they won’t last as long if you refrigerate them.

There are several types of fall squash, and each has multiple varieties:

  • Butternut squash: My favorite, with a sweet, dense orange flesh that lends itself to sweet and savory dishes. It’s an excellent storage squash.
  • Acorn squash: The pale-orange or deep yellow flesh of the acorn squash is a bit less sweet; more for savory recipes. It also stores well.
  • Delicata squash: As the name implies, delicata is more delicate. On the plus side, its skin is edible; on the negative, it doesn’t store as long as butternut and acorn.
  • Spaghetti squash: These are size of a football, with pale yellow flesh. Grow this squash to amaze your non-farming friends, if for no other reason. When cooked, the flesh is scraped from the skin with a fork to form spaghetti-like threads.
  • Kabocha squash: There are a number of types of kabocha, and they range in color and flavor. There’s something for everyone in this category.

Read more: Patty pan squash is zucchini by another name.

How to Grow Fall Squash

Cucurbits are hard, as you probably know, for growers using organic methods, because of insects and fungal diseases. Fall squash have a long growing season, so you need to keep plants healthy for 85 to 100 days or more. These are not a beginner’s crop, which is why I say fall is the time to start planning for fall squash.

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Fall squash are heavy feeders, requiring lots of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Start with a soil test in the fall, and then amend your soil with all of the phosphorus and potassium and half of the nitrogen that your plants want. Side dress with the other half of the nitrogen as fruits begin forming in the summer.

Direct seed or transplant your fall squash into friable soil soon after your last frost to give them the most time to grow. This year, my direct-seeded plants produced at nearly the same time as the transplants.

Read your seed packet for the proper spacing, as each variety differs. These plants take up a lot of space and vine out. Don’t crowd them, or fungus is more likely to set in.

Keep your plants covered with row cover until blossoms begin to form. This will keep off insects when the plants are young. By the time blossoms come on, plants have a better chance of standing up against the bugs.

Cultivate at least once, maybe twice, while the plants are small. As the leaves grow, they’ll shade out most weeds. Pull by hand any problematic weeds that show up as the season goes on.

Alternatively, plant into a plastic mulch, or mulch your beds with straw.

Fall Squash Cultivation Alternatives

There is no shortage of ideas for how to grow fall squash most successfully.

I love the idea of squash rings, and in fact I’m raking leaves this weekend with those in mind.

A friend had great success growing butternut squash vertically on his deer fence this year—except for the one that deer nibbled through the fence.

And of course there’s the indigenous people’s three-sisters garden planting technique, which grows storage corn as a trellis for pole beans (that provide nitrogen fixation) alongside squash, whose large leaves and vines shade out the weeds.

Read more: Learn about planting in squash rings for a better fall squash harvest.

How to Harvest and Store Fall Squash

When the vines start dying back, it’s time to harvest. Use pruners, as the stems are tough, and watch where you put your thumb when you’re cutting. (Written from experience.)

Put your squash in the greenhouse or in your car with the windows cracked for a few days to cure them. This will seal their hard skins and concentrate their sugars, making a hardier squash for storage and a tastier one for eating.

After curing, store in a cool, dry place, like in your garage, your pantry or a box under your bed.

How to Eat Fall Squash

This subject deserves its own article. I could go on, but here’s a short list of my favorites:

  • Butternut: Soup; polenta; chili; and in every baked good imaginable
  • Delicata: Stuffed with curried lentils; over a salad with a fruity dressing; and on top of pizza
  • Acorn: Soup; pureed and added to quiche; and drizzled with cinnamon butter and maple syrup
  • Kabocha: Soup; mashed with cheddar cheese; and gnocchi
  • Spaghetti: Fritters; like pasta with pesto; and Southwest-style cheesy sausage, bean and salsa casserole

Fall squash: You plant it in the spring, eat it in the fall and winter, and worry about it all year long. It’s worth it, though. Get your pumpkin-spice latte in hand, and head to the garden to start working on next year’s squash plot.

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