With Halloween just around the corner and pumpkin spice invading the culinary scene again, it’s time to salute the Cucurbits—that family of plants that includes pumpkins and squash. It’s a large family, with more than 900 members including winter and summer squash of all types, gourds as well as cucumbers and melons.
We’re focusing on the winter squash here, most of which are Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschato. The pumpkins and squashes we grow are all annual vines that produce large, hard-shelled fruits in late summer and fall. They are unique among the large squash family in that pumpkins and winter squash have high nutrient value, with many of them being great sources of vitamins A, C and B6, potassium, folate and dietary fiber. (That piece of pumpkin pie really is good for you!)
Easy to Grow
Pumpkins and squash are easy to grow, even in the North. To grow well, pumpkins and squash need lots of sun, adequate moisture and room to ramble. They are vines and can stretch all over the garden, but they also can be highly productive, with many squash coming from a single plant. Most people seed their pumpkins and squash directly in the garden, though it’s best to wait until the soil is warmed up — likely late May or even June. Like most vegetables, pumpkins and squash grow well in a rich soil that has been supplemented with compost. An inch of water a week through rain or the hose should be sufficient to keep them growing well.
Pumpkins and squash will flower in mid-summer and begin to set fruit. Normally, bees will do a great job of pollinating your squash plants, but if that does not seem to be happening, you may want to try hand-pollinating. Fruits generally should be harvested before the first hard freeze. Then, cure them in the sun for another week or two. If weather does not cooperate, you can also cure your squash indoors.
Many pumpkins and squash will keep for months under the right conditions. Squash are terrific additions to soups, curries, desserts of all kinds and even waffles!
Did you grow pumpkins and squash this year?