Summer Squash, Winter Squash

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Summer squash. Source: Tim Sackton, Wikimedia Commons

As you shop for packs of seeds for your summer garden, remember that there are two distinct groups of squash that are used differently in the kitchen: summer squash and winter squash. Most vegetable gardeners will want to plant a few of each type to meet their needs.

Interestingly, summer squash and most winter squash are derived from the same species, Cucurbita pepo. The difference is simply that summer squash was developed to be especially tender and tasty well before it matures, when its skin is still thin and its seeds are barely visible. Zucchinis (courgettes) and pattypans are the best-known summer squashes. You harvest summer squashes regularly throughout much of the summer.

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The pumpkin is the best-known winter squash.

The name “winter squash” might throw a beginning gardener. It doesn’t mean it is sown or grown in winter. In fact, you sow it in late spring, when the soil warms up, just like summer squash. The difference is that it can be stored for long periods, well into winter.

Winter squash is harvested when it is fully ripe, in late summer or fall. By then its skin will be hard, its flesh dense and less watery and its seeds (which are also edible!) will be fully mature. Of the many the squashes derived from C. pepo, the best known are probably pumpkins, vegetable marrows and spaghetti squashes.

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Butternut squash

There are also other squash species that produce winter squash, notably C. moschata (crookneck squash, butternut squash, etc.) and C. maxima (buttercup, Hubbard and others).20170310A

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The Fascinating Story of the Pumpkin

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Halloween pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo).

Tonight’s Halloween pumpkin has a long and fascinating history, one well worth looking into.

First, the pumpkin is a type of winter squash, in the genus Cucurbita. There are two species usually called pumpkin in Britain and North America: C. pepo (the jack o’lantern type pumpkin) and C. maxima (the giant pumpkin). In Australia and New Zealand, pretty much any winter squash will go under the name pumpkin.

Pumpkins originated in North America. They are believed to have been domesticated in Mexico about 5500 B.C. Originally, the fruit was small with a hard shell and was grown for its edible seeds. Over time, varieties with thicker, less fibrous flesh were developed and used for human consumption.

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Pumpkin field.

It is believed that the first European to introduce the pumpkin to the Old World was Spanish explorer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. He saw pumpkins in Florida in 1528 and is thought to have brought the first seeds back to Europe. It took a while for the new fruit to become widely accepted, but nowadays pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

Quite the Plant!

A pumpkin plant is huge, with large leaves and long, trailing stems, sometimes 10 feet (3 m) long. However, the size of the plant does not determine that of the fruit. Rather, it is genetically determined, with some varieties producing only one or two very large pumpkins, while others produce smaller fruit, but more per plant.

Giant pumpkins (C. maxima) were originally developed by Nova Scotian farmer Howard Dill (1935-2008). He simply kept saving the seed of the largest pumpkins in his pumpkin patch every year and soon began to win prizes for the largest pumpkin in local fairs. He later commercialized his pumpkin strain under the name Dill’s Atlantic Giant.

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World’s biggest pumpkin.

In 1980, he created quite a stir by presenting a pumpkin weighing 459 lbs (208 kg) at a fair. He later commercialized his pumpkin strain under the name Dill’s Atlantic Giant… and you can still buy seed of Atlantic Giant pumpkins to this today. However, Mr. Dill’s pumpkin is a baby compared to the world-record pumpkin, grown in 2014 by German gardener Beni Meir. It weighed a whopping 2,323.7 lb (a bit over a metric ton). That’s as much as a teenage hippopotamus.

Note that the giant pumpkins don’t look much like Halloween pumpkins. They’re not of the same species (C. maxima rather than C. pepo), are often lumpy rather than smooth and tend to come in shades of pale orange, yellow or cream rather than the deep orange associated with the typical jack o’lantern. Also, they are usually quite deformed, collapsing a bit under their enormous weight and giving a fruit that is distinctly flattened.

Vegetable or Fruit?

Is the pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable? It all depends on your perspective. If you serve it with the main meal, as in a soup, most people would consider it a vegetable. If you serve it as a dessert, such as in pumpkin pie, most would consider it a fruit. Botanically speaking, though, it contains seeds and is therefore a fruit.

Pumpkin Carving

Carving pumpkins into jack o’lanterns is relatively recent. It is believed that tradition was brought over from Ireland where people used to carve turnips and rutabagas into lanterns for Halloween, the eve of All Saint’s Day. It is believed that Irish immigrants quickly switched to pumpkins in North America simply because they are easier to carve!

As you carve tonight’s pumpkin, remember to keep some seeds for next year. Sow them outdoors next spring and they’ll give you big, beautiful free pumpkins in time for Halloween next year.

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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Separate Beds for Squash and Pumpkins

juillet 24If you want to harvest your squash or pumpkin seeds for sowing the following year, avoid growing more than one cultivar in the same garden, otherwise it is certain that they will cross. Therefore, when you sow the seeds harvested from a zucchini that grew next to a spaghetti squash, they won’t produce a zucchini new year, but something in between. Always separate the different kinds of squash at least 115 feet (35 m). In other words, in a different garden entirely

At least, that’s the simple explanation. There are exceptions. It turns out some squashes belong to other species, such as the “giant pumpkin” (which is not a true pumpkin at all, but a giant squash, Cucurbita maxima) and the butternut squash (C. moschata) and they cannot interbreed with the typical squashes (C. pepo). In that case, proximity isn’t a problem. However, the vast majority of both summer and winter squashes, including true pumpkins (field pumpkins), zucchinis, spaghetti squashes, crooknecks, acorn squashes, delicata squashes, and vegetable marrows, although they differ greatly in size, shape and color, belong to the species C. pepo and will therefore easily cross if planted close together.