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Growing Tropical Squash in Florida

Local farming and home gardening is never more relevant than in times of emergency when food supply and distribution have the potential to become unstable. Those stuck at home can make the most of it and grow a great spring garden. Tropical squash is one crop that you might want to try, and it’s not too late to plant some for the spring growing season.

Tropical squashes are adapted to growing in hot, humid climates, and tend to be less susceptible to the diseases that affect many other types of squash. These pumpkin-type squashes have hard, thick rinds that help protect them from insects.

All of the tropical squashes listed below have different shapes and sizes, but all are in the same family (Cucurbita moschata). They have yellow or orange, sweet, smooth-textured flesh and are delicious eaten cooked in a variety of ways, including mashed or in soups and stewed dishes.

Calabaza: There are several varieties available; all produce large, green, smooth pumpkins. Calabaza is popular in Caribbean dishes like sancocho stew; they also make a great pumpkin pie.  Seed sources: Seedway. Calabaza is available in local stores (also one way to obtain seeds), but the next two are specialty squashes that you may need to grow yourself if you want to try them.

Seminole pumpkin: This small tan-colored squash was an important food of Native Americans in Florida for hundreds of years. It is now considered an endangered food because it isn’t commercially cultivated and may be in danger of disappearing entirely. Pumpkin frybread is a popular Seminole recipe. Seed sources ECHO; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Moranga squash: These adorable little pink pumpkins are used to make “shrimp-in-squash”, a traditional Brazilian dish. Seed sources: Urban Farmer.

Grow your own

I would recommend a minimum growing area of about 25 square feet in full sun for vining tropical squashes. Depending on the variety you plant, you will start harvesting squash 2-3 months after planting. Harvest tropical squash when they are at mature size and their mature color. If you want your squash to look like the seed packet, or you want to save seeds for the next year, then only grow one variety at a time. Open-pollinated varieties like the three above, will cross-pollinate with each other and you’ll end up with hybrid squash.

Squash will grow well in compost, and should also be fertilized lightly every two weeks. Drip irrigation is best for squash because watering the leaves can encourage fungal disease.

Squash have male and female flowers on each plant and bees are needed to transfer the pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Protect pollinators by avoiding pesticide applications on or near blooming flowers.

Tropical squash will hold a few of weeks after harvest if they are placed in a cool, dry room.

To prepare tropical squash: Peeling is optional, as rinds are soft and edible when cooked (but not everyone likes the way they taste). If you peel them, use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler. Use a very sharp knife to cut the squash open. Cut in half (unless you are going to use the squash as a bowl, then just cut off the top). Scoop out the seeds and stringy parts in the middle with a spoon. Cut the squash into chunks and it’s ready to use or freeze.

For gardening and farming information in Osceola County, FL, contact UF IFAS Extension-Osceola: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/osceola/ , 321-697-3000.

(The listing of seed suppliers is offered as a resource only and does not imply endorsement of any specific companies nor guarantee quality product.)

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