Growing Organic Squash and Pumpkin Basics

Know these squash secrets next time you cook.

Despite their difference in taste and appearance, the two main types of squash, summer and winter, are closely related botanically and are grown and cultivated in the same way. Along with melons and cucumbers, they belong to the gourd family, all members of which need a lot of room to grow.

Summer squashes usually grow as sprawling bush plants. Their fruits are harvested long before they reach maturity, while their skins, which may be green, yellow, white or striped, are still tender and edible. Many summer squashes are cylindrical in shape.

Summer squashes include yellow squash, zucchini or green squash; and the white or pale green scallop squash.

Most winter squashes grow as vines, requiring even more space than summer squashes. They are left on the vine until fully mature; by then, their rinds are tough and generally inedible. Fruits come in several colors that may change with maturity, and may be squat, long, round or onion shaped. Skin may be smooth or ridged. Properly stored, winter squashes can be kept throughout the winter.

Pumpkins and inedible ornamental gourds fall into the winter squash category. If squash could talk, this is what it would tell you.

Pumpkins are simply a kind of squash — some of them growing as bushes, others as vines. Like winter squashes, they are allowed to mature before harvesting.

The types of squash seem infinite. Summer squashes include yellow squash, zucchini or green squash; and the white or pale green scallop squash. Most summer varieties can be picked within 50 to 60 days after planting.

The earliest-maturing winter squashes are acorn and butternut, which are ready to be picked in 75 to 85 days. The turban-shaped buttercup squash matures in about 100 days. Slate-gray or green Hubbard squash, which can grow to enormous size, is ready for harvest in about 110 days. Pumpkins ripen in 90 to 120 days.

All squashes need a rich, loamy soil that will naturally retain moisture, and grow best when nutrients are added in the form of organic humus or fertilizer, and never chemical fertilizers. Regular watering is essential for summer squash after transplanting and during flowering and fruiting. The deeper-rooted winter squash needs watering only in dry weather.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest