Winter Squashes and Pumpkins with their solid structures make them a wonderful vegetable to store over the winter months that does not require space in the freezer or cupboard to store, just a cool frost free area and they will keep right into the following spring.
Here's Our Guide to Growing Squash:
How, Where & When to Grow Squash
Squash require long hot summer to ripen the fruit fully. Therefore best to sow seeds mid-spring under cover for successful germination within 10-12 days when suitable conditions are met. Sow 2 seeds per 9cm pot, which will prevent root disturbance as they grow. On germination, cut off weaker of the 2 seedlings. Meantime prepare in readiness, the planting position, by incorporating well-rotted moisture retentive compost.
An alternative way to grow squash is as part of what's known as the '3 sisters'. An introduction to the 3 sisters, these are climbing beans, pumpkins/squash and sweetcorn which when grown together form an interconnected plant guild. The beans add nitrogen to the soil for the pumpkins/ squash and anchor the sweetcorn, protecting it from winds. The sweetcorn acts as a living trellis for the beans to climb, the pumpkins or squash keep the other plants roots cool and moist acting as a living mulch. A very space efficient approach!
Once seedlings are hardened off, plant out 1 per planting position every metre between plants.
Water regularly until plants have established, watering around the plants, not over them. Slug pest love these too, set beer traps close to the plants. During hot spells, plants will benefit from a layer of mulch and with the onset of first flower start weekly high potash feed, to encourage growth both on the fruit and to produce further flowers. Set fruit on a bed of straw to prevent from rotting on the wet soil.
Squash fruits are ready to harvest when the fruits have developed hard skin and by late summer but must be harvested before first frost arrives.
Here are some tips:
- Wait until the fruits have fully changed colour before harvesting, this is the plant's way of saying that the fruits are mature. They should sound hollow when tapped. It's ok to let the plants die back before harvest but they do need to be brought in before the first hard frost comes (they will fine in a light frost).
- Handle with extreme care while harvesting and transporting the fruits, any blemishes are a point of entry for moulds. Be particularly careful not to break off the stalks for this same reason - any damaged fruits can be put aside and eaten first.
- 'Cure' the fruits in a warm dry place for a couple of weeks (e.g. polytunnel or glasshouse), this toughens the skin, increasing the storability.
- Store cured fruits in a dry airy place, making sure they are not touching each other (points where they touch are likely to rot). So do not store in a pile, tempting and space-efficient as it may be!
- Check your squashes weekly for signs of rot and eat any that are beginning to turn.
Squash is a great source of fibre, as well as vitamins including A, C, E and B vitamins along with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Three tablespoons of cooked butternut squash counts as one of your five-a-day.
Squash is one of winter’s most iconic vegetables and offers a whole host of tempting ways to cook with it…Add Butternut Squash to macaroni cheese…a vegetarian Moroccan chickpea, Squash and Cavolo Nero stew…carve out the Pumpkin and make a Pumpkin hummus served in the Pumpkin!
If you're thinking of sowing other vegetable and herb seeds, discover more of our growing guides.