One of the many wonderfully magical things to come out of gardens is winter squash. Another, quite similar, tap of the cultivator’s wand is pumpkins. These two are exciting vegetables (fruits technically) for a myriad of reasons.

Winter squash and pumpkins are usually massive items, often with one being big enough to feed a familiar. They can dazzle roasted, whizzed into creamy soups, or even pureed into pies. Oh, and don’t forget toasted squash/pumpkin seeds. These garden greats are much more versatile than many of us realize.

Beyond tasting wonderful, winter squash and pumpkins are also game-changers for fresh produce in winter. When harvesting correctly, they can be stored for months as is, with no canning or freezing.

Growing Pumpkins & Winter Squash

Despite the inclusion of the adjective “winter” in front of the squash, late spring or early summer is the time to plant. Like summer squash, winter squash (and pumpkins) like to grow in the hot weather. Their seeds need to be sowed when all threat of frost is gone but not much beyond that. They can require about four months to mature.

When planting any kind of squash, it’s important to remember they need lots of room to roam. The main vines of large pumpkins and squash can easily wiggle ten to fifteen feet, and secondary vines (coming from the main vine) can do the same. Pumpkins and winter squash grow very well on the sunny side of a fence, and they are prone to climb up it.

Squash plants respond very well to being mulched thickly, about four or five inches of hay, straw, or pine needles. In addition to helping maintain moisture in the soil, the fruits will sit on the mulch rather than the ground, which aids in preventing them from rotting while on the vine.

Harvesting Winter Squash and Pumpkins

Ideally, the mature color of the winter squashes and pumpkins will be fully realized before they are harvested. The skin should harden such that a fingernail can’t be pressed in and leave a mark. This can be a torturous wait as the fruit will appear early, grow huge quickly, and then slow down to ripen.

However, just as pumpkin (and winter squash) plants are no fans of freezing weather, freezes can destroy fruit that is out in the field/garden. Light frosts might kill the plants, but the fruit can survive them. However, the harvest should be before the first freeze.

When all the conditions have been met and/or it’s time to harvest, leaving a few inches of stem helps to protect the interior of the squash/pumpkin from infection. Weather permitting, the pumpkins and squashes can be left in the garden to cure for a couple of weeks. If it’s too cold or rainy, they can be cured in a warm, well-ventilated place.

Storing Pumpkins and Winter Squash

While using winter squash and pumpkins as autumn decoration is very festival, left outside in freezing temperatures or subject to rain will likely cause them to spoil. In other words, maybe they make better indoor décor because then they can be eaten afterward.

For the most success, i.e. longest storage, pumpkins, and winter squash like a cool (not cold) spot with good airflow and a bit of humidity. A good temperature would be around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and an appropriate level of humidity would be in 50% range. Stored this way, some winter squashes and pumpkins can last for a few months.

If the squash or pumpkin has been damaged, they can be processed and preserved as well. Slices of squash or pumpkin can be dehydrated. In order to freeze them, they should be cooked first, which helps preserve the flavor and texture. Canning squash and pumpkins requires a pressure canner.

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

Cooking a winter squash or pumpkin is an event to be savored. Pulling out the seeds and toasting them for a snack are garnish (and good fats and protein) is fun. Roasting them in the oven fills the house with enticing aromas. Then, it can be roasted butternut squash, pumpkin soup, or a delicious dessert.

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