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Grow Winter Squash for Storage

April 6th, 2009 by Veggie Master · 1 Comment

Like other food gardeners, I enjoy eating sun-warmed tomatoes picked ripe off the vine and crisp greens harvested in the cool of the evening, but yesterday as I was preparing my favorite roast veggie dish, I thought about the lowly winter squash.  The name says it all,  this is not a vegetable to be enjoyed ripe from the garden, but rather dug out of storage in the dead of winter when we are longing for a taste of summer. 

Growing Requirements

Growing winter squash is easy if you remember three things.  They like warm soil, lots of organic compost and drip irrigation.  Here in the northeast I start my seeds in the greenhouse three weeks before I think my garden soil will be warm enough.  This means the transplants will go in about a week after our last frost date.  If the weather is unseasonably cool and cloudy, don’t jump the gun, have patience and wait for the warmth.  Squash plants simply won’t grow in the cold.  Gardeners in longer season areas can plant seeds directly into the garden.

Planting

For growing winter squash I use one of my garden beds which is 4′ wide by 25′ long.  Since the soil is reasonably fertile I add 3-4″ of compost on top and plant directly into it.  I never rototill or dig it in because I find that brings up millions of weed seeds.  The earthworms come up to get their favorite food – the compost – and take the nutrients deep into the soil.  My transplants are set out in two staggered rows about 2′ apart from each other.  Irrigation lines run down each row, 6″ away from the plants.

Watch out for a nasty little insect called a cutworm.  It comes up out of the soil, encircles the stem of your transplant and cuts it off – instant dinner!  To prevent cutworm damage, place a sturdy 4″ long by 1/4-inch thick twig or ten penny nail next to the stem and bury it two inches into the soil as you put in the squash transplants.  Do the same with seedlings as they emerge.  You’ll be glad you did!

During the Growing Season

Foliar feeding your squash plants with a spray solution of fish and seaweed emulsion every two weeks will keep them growing strongly and give the squash a longer storage life.  The only time your garden may need additional fertilization is when the season is very rainy, washing the nutrients from the soil before the plants can take them up.  A small amount of granular organic fertilizer is the answer to that problem.  Do not use a product that’s heavy in nitrogen or you’ll end up with many lush leaves and few squash.

A good, thick mulch will keep down weeds while preventing soil dehydration.  When the squash have sized up and are in their ripening phase, it’s a good idea to limit irrigation.  Too much moisture at this point will mean watery, tasteless fruit.

Harvest Time and Storage

When the squash have developed their deep coloration and the skin has hardened, it’s time to harvest.  Leave at least a 2″ stem when picking to prevent rotting.  Most winter squash destined for storage will benefit from a two-week curing process.  This means leaving them in a warmer (75-85 degree) place with good air circulation.  Lay them in a single layer, not touching each other.

It’s easy to store winter squash since they do fine at normal room temperature (65-70 degrees).  I take a shallow plastic bin, lay the squash on their sides, again not touching, then cover the bin with paper bags or unwaxed cardboard to exclude light.  Do not cover with plastic or the bin will become too humid and the squash will rot.  I lay my squash on their sides because, as I learned the hard way last winter, laying them on their blossom ends will also cause rot.  Check the bin at least once a week during the winter and discard any rotting squash.

Butternut Winter Squash

'Butternut' Winter Squash - Park Seed Co.

Recipes

My all-time favorite  winter squash is ‘Butternut’.  I love the hefty weight in my hand telling me this substantial product of my garden is loaded with food value.  Slicing through the tough buff-colored skin reveals the bright orange meat inside.  But the best thing about ‘Butternut’ is its flavor – sweetly delicious.  No need to pour brown sugar or maple syrup all over this squash.  It’s yummy all on its own!  Simply cut in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut-side down on a cookie sheet.   Roast at 425 degrees  in a convection oven for 45 minutes or until soft.  Cut into serving-size pieces and eat.  I also scoop out the flesh and use it in many recipes such as the one for the scrumptious cake below.  Freeze extra baked squash in quantities appropriate for recipes.

Butternut Squash Chocolate Swirl Cake

Angel food cake pan – buttered

1 cup Ghirardelli 60% Chocolate Chips – melt in microwave for 1 min. – set aside

In food processor:

3 Eggs

1/2 cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

3/4 cup Honey – Wildflower preferred

2 cups baked Butternut Squash – room temp or from fridge

2 tsp. Vanilla

Process till smooth – at least 1 minute.

Add:

2 cups Flour

2 tsp. Baking Powder

1-1/2 tsp. Baking Soda

2 tsp. Cinnamon

2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice – I make my own (Cinnamon, Ginger, powdered Cloves and/or Allspice)

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Process 10 seconds or until well mixed.

Pour half the batter into buttered angel food cake pan.  Add melted chocolate to rest of batter and process until just mixed.  Drop by large dollops onto batter in pan and swirl in with knife.  Do not mix too much; swirl pattern should be evident on top.  Bake at 350 degrees (convection bake at 325 degrees) for 45 minutes.  Test with cake tester or knife to see if still wet.  If so, bake another 5-10 minutes.  Do not over-bake.  Cool before frosting.  This cake is quite good by itself, but the ganache below is easy to make and so impressive to guests.

Butternut Squash Chocolate Swirl Cake

Butternut Squash Chocolate Swirl Cake

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

1-1/2 cups Semisweet Chocolate Chips (I use same as above) & Milk, Cream or Soymilk to not quite cover chips

Heat in microwave for 30 seconds.  Let sit one minute.  Stir until chocolate ganache forms.  If chips are not quite melted, heat a little longer in microwave in 5 second increments.  Do NOT overheat.  Pour on cake while ganache is still warm.  Any extra is absolutely delish as hot fudge over ice cream.  Enjoy!

Roasted Veggies

Cut into chunks:  peeled and seeded Butternut squash, onions and potatoes.   Spread herbs on bottom of baking dish.  I use thyme, rosemary, sage and savory.  Pour in extra virgin olive oil to cover herbs.  Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt.  Throw in a good number of peeled garlic cloves.  Add veggies and toss well so that the oil and herb mixture coats all.  Bake at convection roast 425 degrees for 45 minutes or until veggies are soft.  Makes a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken.

Roasted Veggies with Butternut Squash

Roasted Veggies with Butternut Squash

Resources

Park Seed Co.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Pinetree Garden Seeds

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