For gardeners, squash is both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it is one of the most reassuring plants to grow because it is agreeable and vigorous in most situations, and the harvests tend to be huge. On the other hand, the harvests are sometimes so large—just a few zucchini plants provide more than a family can eat—that it becomes overwhelming to find ways to deal with all the fruits.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a summer garden without zucchini and/or yellow squash padding out the harvests. Nothing says autumn soups and winter roasts quite like butternut squash and pumpkins (also a squash). In other words, there’s no way around it: We’ve got to grow them because we love to eat them.

So, it’s time to learn the ins and outs of growing squash, from acorn to zucchini, and this is just the space to get into it.

Summer Squash vs. Winter Squash

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We can categorize squashes into two categories: summer and winter. Both are delicious and easy to cultivate. Summer squashes are great for eating fresh, and winter squashes are amazing for storing, some of them lasting several months.

Summer squashes grow faster, have bushier plants, and are eaten young before their skins harden. Popular varieties include zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pans. While these varieties can grow large and thick-skinned like winter squashes, they are better to enjoy before this.

Winter squashes (and pumpkins) grow on long vines that can either spread out over a space or climb up trellises. Winter squashes take a month or longer to grow than summer squashes because the fruit needs to reach full maturity so that the skin hardens. These make great soups, roasted treats, chunky soups, and sweet pies.

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Winter Squash vs. Pumpkins

Winter squashes are often separated into (at least) two subcategories: winter squash and pumpkins. In reality, pumpkins are just distinctive types of winter squash, typically on the spherical side, usually with orange flesh, and normally with smoother skin.

All of these adverbs— typically, usually, and normally— are because none of these rules are steadfast. For example, there are spherical green squashes that get called pumpkins, and there are winter squashes shaped a lot like pumpkins but get called squashes.

Popular winter squashes include acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata, Hubbard, and spaghetti. Well-known pumpkin varieties are sugar pie, Jack-o’-Lantern, Atlantic Giant (for “the biggest pumpkin” contests), and Cinderella. Hey, it’s a free-flowing world out there, so let’s just love it for what it is, squash or pumpkin.

Caution When Saving Seed

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In reality, all of these varieties of squashes—summer, winter, and pumpkin—come from just three species: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata.

What this means in terms of saving seed is that growers must be very careful about keeping two of the same species from muddling up the seed genetics. In other words, if we grow a spaghetti squash and acorn squash (both C. pepo) next to each other, next year’s seeds will create some, usually far less delicious, hybrid of two. Squashes of the same species should be planted at a minimum of 50 feet apart to save seeds.

Cucurbita pepo: zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan, acorn, spaghetti, scallop, delicate, several types of pumpkin, several ornamental gourds

Cucurbita maxima: candy roaster, Hubbard, buttercup, kabocha, Boston marrow, banana

Cucurbita moschata: butternut, calabaza, Long Island cheese pumpkin, fairytale pumpkin, tromboncino

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Growing Squashes

Though squashes are quite easy to grow, they do come with a few things to consider.

The first important point to know about squashes is that they take up a lot of space. Summer squashes will spread out for a good square yard, so they can work well in the corner or back of the vegetable garden. Winter squashes can create vines that are 10-15 feet long without even stressing about it, so they are good for planting out by the back fence, where they can grow and climb as they please without bothering anything else.

After that, it is about giving them a bit of good soil and regular water. They respond very well to instant garden beds (a pile of garden/yard waste with a hole cleared out and filled with compost to act like a plant pot), which helps to keep moisture levels and fertility up. Summer squashes usually provide harvestable fruit in a couple of months, and winter squashes generally take over three months.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that summer squashes and winter squashes both grow in the summertime. Neither can survive a frost, so they must be planted in late spring or early summer, along with the corn and beans.

Lastly, lastly! Don’t forget that many parts of the squash plants provide tasty treats, such as squash blossoms and pumpkin seeds.

Parting Words of Wisdom

Because squash plants are so large and produce so prolifically, there is no need to plant tons of them. Three zucchini plants are enough for a family and likely more than one. The same can be said for just about all of the squashes. Gardeners are infamous for forcing their overabundance of squashes on family and friends. It’s not a horrible reputation to have.

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