Actually, winter squash are not–well–winter squash. They actually grow in the height of summer. However, they keep so well that they have begun to be thought of in different ways than their “summer squash” cousins. If you bring them in from the garden and put them in a dark cool place, you’ll have fresh vegetables for a good long time. Winter squashes are cousins to the cucumbers and zucchini. You want your squashes to be firm and heavy for their size when you harvest them.
Squashes for the Short-Term
If your growing season is short, consider acorn squash. It will mature in about 90 days, so you can grow these in all but the coldest zones. They are small and dark green with pale yellow flesh that is deliciously sweet with a slightly nutty taste. You should eat these ribbed delicacies within three months of harvest. They are great for southern gardens because you can use the patch for another crop before the summer is over. However, the good thing about living in the southern zones is that you can grow just about any of the squashes–this from an extension horticulturist at Auburn University in Alabama.
The Small Garden
If you have been thinking that you don't have enough space for squash, think again! Consider two varieties: the Delicata and the Dumpling. They are not very large, and they mature fairly quickly. So if you feel limited by the smallness of your garden and the limitation is compounded by a short growing season, why don't you give these a try? The colors of these squashes range from cream to green to orange and the skin is either striped or mottled. In addition to the other attractions, you can keep them for as long as four months after you harvest them. The Dumplings are small and round and very sweet–a little like sweet potatoes. The Delicata is oblong and even the skin is edible on these.
The Amiable Butternut
This one is the most adaptable. It can be grown just about anywhere. It's virtually indestructible and reliable. It's tan and long rather than round and has a bulbous end. The flesh is dark orange and smooth and has a sweet creamy flavor. It's also easy to peel. These last longer than any of the others. Some people report still having some in the spring; also, the Butternuts are not as particular about storage conditions as some of the others. These are good for squash-growing beginners. You will almost always get some kind of yield.
For the Dry Climates
The Buttercup and Kabocha. These are larger than the others, weighing from 3 to 5 pounds. You might even call them family-size. Even if you don't like the taste of other winter squashes, you might like these. Colors range from slate gray to dark green, and they have pale stripes. The Buttercups are round and dark green and have a sort of button on the blossom end. The button doesn't appear on the Kabochas; the fruit is also a little drier than that of the Buttercup. In both cases, the flesh is flaky. They are also both very sweet. The good news is that they even get sweeter after they've been stored for awhile. As to growing conditions, these are the ones that do better in drier climates; even so, they can be grown in other regions as well.
The Hubbard and Banana. If your climate is very dry, these are the ones for you. They do well in the Southwest at either high or low elevations. They are popular with gardeners in New Mexico. They will grow and thrive in very dry conditions; however, if you keep them watered, the fruit will be much larger. The watering should be infrequent but deep rather than infrequent and shallow. Hubbards range from medium-size to large and have a neck at the stem end. The body could be described as lumpy and they are deep orange or gray green. They look good in fall arrangements. Bananas look like–you guessed it–bananas! However, they are not yellow but gray-green or pink with orange flesh. These are BIG!! They can grow to 30 pounds or even larger. Allowed to mature, the Bananas can be stored for up to six months.
Winter squashes eat a lot! For that reason, be sure to plant them in soil that is rich in organic matter. Some experts recommend planting in hills and concentrating compost and fertilizer a foot deep and in a 2-foot diameter around the plant. If you have a short growing season, don't give up on winter squashes. You can start the seed indoors about three weeks ahead of time. The transplants can be set out a week or two after all danger of frost has passed. In warmer zones, of course, you can plant them directly in the soil at about the same time. You want them to mature in late summer or early fall.
By TTS Cofounder Botanical Chef Omid Jaffari