Tis the season for masquerades, tricksters and harvesting before the long winter months ahead. The following tips and techniques below will provide you with growing squashes and pumpkins efficiently. This is a continuation of Storing Garden Produce for Winter Parts 1-10. See the link below for the 10 Part Series.
Difference Between Pumpkin and Squash: Even though most people identify squash as a vegetable, they are actually considered fruits due to the seeds within the plant. A pumpkin by any other name is actually a winter squash. All pumpkins, winter and summer squash, and gourds belong to one of four species. Shape, color and stem consistency will usually determine if it is called a pumpkin or a winter squash. A mature pumpkin is a deep, solid orange or white for “ghost” pumpkins and the rind is hard. Squash are usually green, white and green striped, or even a light shade of yellow. Some squash are even blue. A simplified explanation of the differences is people carve a pumpkin; you cook and eat squash, and basically look at gourds. Being related, they share the same growing requirements and all are essentially fall crops.
What is Summer Squash: The main difference between summer and winter squash is that summer squash is eaten as soon as the squash develops. Harvesting summer squash takes place in the immature stages before the rind hardens and the seeds ripen. Summer squash grows on bush-type plants that do not fan out like winter squash and pumpkins. For a full list of summer squash types as well as recipes for squash soup, follow the link below.
Summer squash is a tender, warm-season fruit that can be planted anytime after the dangers of frost has passed, usually from early spring until midsummer. Among the favorites are crookneck summer squash and straight neck, and of course green and yellow zucchini. They are at their best when they are 4-6 inches long. If you pick them young and tender, plenty more will follow. Do not allow summer squash to become too large, hard or seedy however, for they tend to zap the strength from the squash plant that could have otherwise been used to produce even more young fruit. Squash grow rapidly, especially in hot weather so be sure to check your plants every day or so. They are usually ready to be harvested within 4 to 8 days after flowering. As with all squash, fungus and bacteria can easily multiply within bruises, cuts or gouges causing softening and decomposition. Always handle them with care for the stem area is prickly and can scratch and irritate unprotected skin. Use a sharp pruning shears and wear gloves when possible.
Summer squash have both male and female flowers, but only the female produces fruit. You can easily distinguish the male blossoms from the female. The stem of the male blossom is thin and trim while the stem of the female blossom is very thick. At the base of the female flower, just below the petals is a small bulge, which contains the developing squash. Harvest only the male blossoms unless your goal is to reduce production but always leave a few male blossoms on the vine for pollination purposes. You can gently “fondle” the blossoms to increase pollination…Some gardeners will pick the edible blossoms before the fruit actually develops. They will be somewhat limp, but this is normal. The blossoms of summer squash are a real delicacy when dipped in batter and fried in olive oil.
To store summer squash harvest the squash fresh and place them unwashed in plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. You can also use green produce bags to prolong shelf life. Do not wash the squash until just before consumption. As with most vegetables and fruits, moisture breeds decay during storage. The storage life of fresh summer squash is relatively short, so use within two to three days after harvesting. Summer squash is usually not stored unless for cooking purposes. To bake summer squash, the seeds can be scooped out or left in. Squash should be salted 15 minutes prior to cooking to remove some of the water content, and then blotted dry. You are able to freeze eggplants, zucchini or other summer squash, if the slices are precooked in butter or olive oil for a few minutes instead of blanching for more flavor and better texture. Otherwise freezing fresh squash will tend to make the squash mushy when thawed which is therefore only suitable for soups. Freeze cooked squash or add to recipes, then freeze. This will likely be the only way to eliminate the mushy texture after it is pulled from the freezer.
Planting winter squash: Growing squash plants will allow you to have fresh vegetables from your garden well into the winter months. Many gardeners will shy away from growing winter squash and pumpkins due to their expansive vines and length of the growing season to maturity. If you have limited space in your garden, winter squash might seem like a luxury. In some climates, the season is too short for decent winter squash production. It pays to look at the days required for ripening because winter squash must be harvested before a serious frost. If it’s not ripe by then, it will never truly ripen off the vine. Fortunately, seed companies are now developing hybrids that either mature on shorter vines or on bushy plants. Some even ripen faster and produce smaller fruits. Regardless, whichever variety you choose to grow, the fruits will need to be fully mature in order to be cooked or kept for storage. More on freezing winter squash as well as drying squash below…
How to Store Squash: Despite their name, winter squash developed its name only due to their storage throughout the winter months. Mature winter squash store better than immature fruit. Pumpkins are also considered a winter squash. With all winter squash, the flesh is firmer and requires a longer cooking period. All winter squash have a hardy thick skin. When mature, the skins will appear dull and dry and cannot be easily punctured by the thumbnail. If you have to work at it, the squash is ripe; if it is very easy to pierce, the squash is immature. Winter squash grow on a frost tender vine. Unless you are going to immediately consume the squash, fruit should be left attached to the vine until the vine dies from the frost. The age to maturity for an early variety should be 100 days and for a late variety 120 days. Keep in mind that dead vines do not always indicate maturity in winter squash. If the vine dies prematurely from disease or drought, for instance, the fruits are probably immature and therefore will not store successfully. Leave a long stem (handle) on winter squashes to delay decay and to reduce water loss. Always harvest before a heavy frost.
Preserving Squash: Curing heals wounds, helps ripen immature fruit, enhances color, and ensures a longer post-harvest life. For curing, expose the fruit to about 75 degrees with relative humidity of about 75 % for 8-10 days. During the cooler months of September and October, homeowners can cure the fruit by setting them outside on a concrete floor exposing them to indirect sunlight. During the nighttime, the fruit should be brought back indoors. Afterward, cured pumpkins and winter squash can be stored in a cool, moderately moist, ventilated, space at about 50-55 degrees in relative low humidity. Control the humidity since high humilities will promote decay and lower humilities will cause excessive weight loss Place them in a single layer on wooden or plastic shelves; you do not want the condensation that metal shelves produce. Don’t store pumpkins and winter squash next to a furnace or with apples or bananas. These fruits will promote ethylene gas…explained in part 8 of this series where as, the finance will increase the dehydration of the fruit. Usually deterioration will first appear around the seed cavity. Check the squash regularity to see if any bad spots appear or if they start to feel soft or mushy, then you have stored the squash too long. Stored this way, both the squash and pumpkins will last for about 3-6 months.
How to Freeze Squash: Due to the high water content of all squashes, as mentioned in Store Garden Produce # 4, fresh frozen squash will become mushy when thawed. In order to keep some texture and consistency, I would recommend cooking squash and pumpkin before freezing. The highest freezing temperature for squash is around 30.9°F. Any lower and it will promote “frost bite” due to amount of water squash contains. Because of their high water content, Squash do best when cooked fresh with dry-heat methods such as stir-fries, grilling or sautéing to avoid the mush factor. Steaming, simmering in a sauce, baking or deep-frying are also perfectly acceptable before freezing. Use with in a 3-month life span for best results.
Before freezing winter squash, know that the skin is inedible. It must be peeled before cooking or eating. The flesh should be scooped out of it after cooking. Winter squash can be roasted, braised, steamed, baked, boiled, microwaved, or simmered before freezing. Use the same techniques to baking fresh pumpkin before freezing as with freezing winter squash. Click the link below for awesome recipes.
A short message about Gourds: Gourds are the inedible fruit of growing squashes. They are mostly used for decoration, vessels for water and storage containers as well as used for musical instruments. Very few gourds are used for consumption. Due to their harder shell, they are mostly used for crafts and that is their reason for being planted along fences, and also to protect the other fruits of the garden by detouring rabbits and squirrels. Gourds should be removed from the vine with some of the stem remaining. Wipe the fruit off with cloth dipped in 1 part Clorox and 9 parts water. Lay the gourds out in indirect sunlight, evenly spaced, so they don’t touch each other to fully cure. Allow about 3-4 weeks to dry completely. Shellac can be added to enhance the color and preserve their beauty for several months.
Follow Kali’s Entire Series on Storing Garden Produce for Winter
Store Garden Produce For Winter-Part 1
Store Garden Produce #2-When To Harvest Garlic & Best Way To Store Herbs
Store Garden Produce #3-How To Dry Mushrooms & Dry Beans Storage
Store Garden Produce #4- How to Store Ripen Tomatoes-Freezing Fresh Tomatoes
Store Garden Produce #5-How to Freeze-Store Squash-Pumpkin Storage
Parts 6-10: Store Garden Produce For Winter
Kali S Winters