Of all the crops we plant in our gardens, squash is possibly the most diverse. (Bean enthusiasts, I see you.) They come a dizzying array of colors, shapes, days to maturity, storability, and even species. We easily get more questions about squash than any other crop, so let’s try to make some sense of it all!
Summer vs. Winter?
This is an understandably confusing one. It’s easy to think that they are called such because of when you *grow* them, but the season reference is actually about when we *eat* the fruits. Summer squash is eaten when it’s fresh and immature, its storage-ability is a week or two tops. Winter squash is left to mature on the vine until their rind hardens and most then store for many months, enabling us to eat them in the winter when other fresh vegetables are scarce.
Both are sown just after first frost directly in the ground, or 2-3 weeks before last frost in pots inside. Summer squashes will start to produce fruit ready to eat in 50-65 days depending on variety, while winter squash take longer to mature, with a range of 80-120 days depending on species.
Like all things gardening, there are exceptions to these categories we’ll go over, but this is a solid list that will prove true 99% of the time. So let’s try to make some sense of the different species.
C. pepo is a large grouping, which include all summer squash, most pumpkins, acorns, delicates, and spaghetti squashes.
You’ll notice that this species includes both summer and winter offerings, and are generally on the small size- averaging 1-2 lbs. making them a good size for The obvious exception is pumpkins, which can be a few lb. pie pumpkin up to several dozen pound jack-o-lantern type.
Average Days to Maturity: 55-100 days
Characteristics: These have a huge range of colors and shapes, and have both bush and vining types available to choose from.
Flavor: The winter types of C. pepo are mild in flavor like the summer types with again the exception to this rule being pumpkins. Their smaller size make them a good size for personal meals and stuffing.
Nutrition: More vitamin C and potassium than other wither squash, less vitamin A
Pest & Disease Tolerance: Can be attractive to squash vine borers and squash bugs. Many varieties are resistant to powdery mildew.
Storage (in ideal conditions): A couple weeks for summer squash, up to 4 months for acorns, 2-3 for delicatas and spaghettis. Storage for pumpkins can range from 3-9 months.
Varieties to try: Summer squash- Black Beauty, Ronde de Nice. Pumpkin- Small Sugar, Wildwood. Winter squash- Table Queen Bush, Delicata Bush.
C. argyrosperma used to be called C. mixta but was reclassified only about a decade ago to the more accurate Latin classification of argyrosperma. This species includes cushaws and silver seed gourds. Most C. argyrosperma have longer days to maturity and are the most closely related to the other types of squash that are too tropical to be grown in North America.
Average Days to Maturity: 90-120 days
Characteristics: Pear to club shaped fruits as well as rounded pumpkin look alikes. Weigh in at 10-20 lbs.
Flavor: Creamy texture with fruits that become even sweeter the longer they are stored. Seeds are large and excellent for roasting.
Nutrition: High in vitamins A and C with seeds that are very high in protein.
Pest & Disease Tolerance: Good resistance to squash vine borers, has some tolerance to powdery mildew. Will perform best in areas where summers are long and warm.
Storage (in ideal conditions): 3-9 months
Varieties to try: Cushaw Green Striped, Black Sweet Potato
C. maxima has very loyal fans because of this species smooth, sweet flesh with long storage capability.
Average Days to Maturity: 90-105 days
Characteristics: A vast amount of variation in size and color, from pink to dark green and weighing in from 4-40 lbs.
Flavor: Dense, rich, and sweet. Flesh becomes sweeter in storage. Many have natural nutty undertones and are the secret ingredient in many cooks “pumpkin” pies.
Nutrition: More protein than other squash types. High in vitamins A and C.
Pest & Disease Tolerance: Can be attractive to squash vine borers but C. maxima can compensate for damage by putting down supplemental roots anywhere the vines contact the ground. Can also susceptible to powdery mildew.
Storage (in ideal conditions): 3-9 months
Varieties to try: North Georgia Candy Roaster, Blue Hubbard
This is the species to grow in areas with heavy vine borer pressure because C. moschata have solid stems that are impossible to bore into. Types include: butternuts, many Japanese types, and cheese pumpkins.
Average Days to Maturity: 80-110 days
Characteristics: Mostly tans and greens, solids and stripes. All types of shapes, and weights ranging from 2-15 lbs.
Flavor: Dense, usually deep orange flesh can become quite fluffy when cooked. Sweet, fruity, and nutty when mature, has a pleasant texture and mild flavor when immature too and can be eaten as a summer squash if desired.
Nutrition: Very high in vitamins C and A
Pest & Disease Tolerance: Excellent resistance to borers, some resistance to squash bugs and powdery mildew.
Storage (in ideal conditions): 4-9 months
Varieties to try: Tromboncino, South Anna Butternut
I hope this answers some questions, and helps you decide what type of squash, or squashes, you would like to grow this season. Don’t forget to take good notes so you can learn from your successes and failures, and share your stories! We become better gardeners by learning from each other.
Written by Sow True Seed's education director, Angie Lavezzo.