Winter squash

Contrary to what you might think from the name “winter squash,” it does not actually grow during the winter.

Squash is usually distinguished by either being “summer squash” or “winter squash” but both kinds grow during the summer.  In the heat.  They LOVE the heat.

The difference is that winter squash generally has a hard skin and can be stored for the winter – some varieties for a very long time.  Summer squash on the other hand has a soft skin and does not store well at all.

Some examples of summer squash:

  • Zucchini
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Pattypan squash

Some examples of winter squash:

  • Pumpkins (yes, all pumpkins are winter squash – but not all winter squash are pumpkins!)
  • Butternut squash
  • Acorn squash
  • Delicata squash
  • Spaghetti squash

Can you see the difference now?  Summer squash = soft skin.  Winter squash = hard skin.

Winter squash

These two categories are all that most people need to distinguish types of squash.  But if you are interested in saving seed from any of your squash, you will also need to know another way to categorize your squash.

By scientific name.

Remember back in biology class when you learned about genus and species?  Well, all types of squash come from the same genus “Cucurbita.”

However, there are 5 different species.  1 of those species is for gourds.  The other 4 contain different types of squash and pumpkins.

The names of the species are C. maxima, C. pepo, C. moschata, and C. mixta.  The “C” in each of them stands for “Cucurbita.”

Here’s the cool thing.

Each of those 4 species does not cross pollinate with each other – only within the species.  So if you plant two varieties from C. maxima right next to each other, the plants will cross-pollinate.

Which is fine if you are trying to create a hybrid, but definitely not fine if you want to save pure seed.

But, if you plant a variety from C. maxima and one from C. pepo right next to each other, they will NOT cross-pollinate.

This means that you can plant one from each of the 4 species and have pure seed from all of them!

A great book on the subject of plant species and saving pure seed is Seed to Seed by Susanne Ashworth.

An example of how this would work (and what I am planning to plant this year):

  • C. maxima -Potimarron Winter Squash
  • C. pepo – Connecticut Field Pumpkin
  • C. moschata – Waltham Butternut Squash
  • C. mixta – Cushaw Green Striped

All of these seeds can be purchased from one of my favorite gardening authors, Caleb Warnock from his website.

Alternatively, you could trade out the Connecticut Field Pumpkin for a zucchini or crookneck squash.  Or you could leave the pumpkin in the mix and trade out the Waltham Butternut Squash for Rampicante Vining Squash which can be eaten as a summer squash when small or left to mature to a full winter squash.  Warning, though, these squash grow very large.  They are pretty cool, however, as they grow in unique shapes.  Plus all of the seeds are at the bulb on the bottom, which means the entire long neck is seed free.  And if you grow it, this squash will be a conversation topic for sure!

Anyway, you get the idea.  Trade out for whatever your family likes to eat but only plant one from each of the 4 categories.

How cool is that?  You get to eat your squash and save pure seeds too!

Because squash come in such a large variety in size, shape, and color, you can grow quite a rainbow.  If you have the room of course.

And it’s not too late to plant pumpkins either…as long as you plant one with a very short days to harvest.  🙂

Tell me, do you grow pumpkins in your garden?  What are your favorite varieties?

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