What’s in the Garden Now – Squash

By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Clara Foran, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Temporary Program Aide

Summer 2015 put an end to many garden crops in Wakulla County.  The 90 degree plus temperatures and high humidity do not agree with the production requirements of most popular items.

While nearing the end of their summer run, winter squash plants at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden are still delivering these tasty, nutritious vegetables.  This popular staple grows well in Wakulla County’s summer and autumn climate.

Winter squash are part of the Cucurbitaceae plant family which includes cucumbers, cantaloupes, pumpkins and watermelons. While they actually grow in the summer, they are harvested in the late autumn more northern latitudes.

Historically, squash were first cultivated in pre-Columbian America over 2000 years ago.  These early open-pollinator varieties performed well in the tropical climate and delivered a generous volume of food per acre.

They had the additional benefit of being easily transported and had a reasonable shelf-life.  With the advent of improved transportation routes and population shifts, the squash gradually made its way west to Europe and beyond.

Today’s gardener has an excellent selection of squash cultivars from which to choose.   These can be cultivated using either seed or transplants, both of which are readily available.

There are many open pollinator varieties available for cultivation. Improved hybrids have been very successful in commercial production, as well as home gardens.

Squash have entered the realm of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in the last five years.  The GMO cultivars are utilized only in commercial production.

For the home gardener, transplants will take 70 to 90 days to produce.  Seed will take about two weeks longer.  The plants require about an inch of rain per week during their growing season, and pollinators are very important to insuring the plants successfully set squash.

Unfortunately, many squash cultivars are susceptible to a variety of diseases and insects. It is not uncommon for a gardener to witness a sudden demise of their plants.

The culprit is usually a borer which drills into the plant’s stem as part of its development. By the time it is discovered, it is too late to save the plant.

The most effective strategy for the home gardener is a succession planting. In other word, plant a few squash, wait two weeks, then plant some more with the hopes the borers will only destroy some of the crop.

Squash are rich in vitamin A which aids in normal vision, healthy skin, and protects against infections.  Additionally, it is high in vitamin C, important for healing cuts and keeping teeth and gums healthy.

The potassium in squash benefits blood pressure control and they are free of cholesterol, low in sodium and calories.

When purchasing or harvesting, select squash with moderate size, but those which still have firm flesh.  These are ripe and at their peak flavor, and if allowed to mature they will store with little care.  Choose those without bruises, soft spots or cracked skin.

This popular menu item is commonly cooked and eaten as a separate dish or casserole, but is also eaten raw when shredded in chilled salads and other dishes.

To learn more about growing and using squash in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/

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