Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter vs. Summer

No, this is not going to be a Battle Royale between the seasons, besides, Summer would win hands down anyway. Nope, with planting season just around the corner, I am starting to get some rather interesting questions.
The other day I got asked about the planting times for Squash. I sent them a link that explained when and all that kind of stuff. They then came back and asked why Summer Squash and Winter Squash have the same planting dates, that being March here in Zone 8, what is the difference between the two?
I thought this was a GREAT question! What really got me to thinking about it was, this came from a good friend of mine who knows A LOT about gardening. If he was wondering, I am sure there are plenty of others.
Squash is native to North and South America and many of the types are believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America where they were eaten 7,500 years ago. American Indians shared many varieties of squash with the European settlers, who took the seeds back to their countries. Today, squash and pumpkins are grown all over the world, and are wildly popular in many Eastern European countries.
Both Summer squash and Winter squash are fruits of vines that belong to the cucumber family (Cucurbitacaea). These plants include cucumbers, melons, and gourds. Squashes are members of the gourd group.
The difference between Summer and Winter is actually very easy. Summer squashes are those types eaten when the fruit is immature and the skin tender. Winter squashes are those types which are allowed to mature before being harvested.
Lets start with Winter Squash. Only because I am tired of Winter and want it to be gone. Ha-Ha.
Some varieties Winter Squash

Winter squash typically need a long growing season, as most take 70 to 120 days from planting to harvest. Winter squash and pumpkins can be planted either in late Spring or in midsummer. Pumpkins (usually grouped with Winter Squash) which are being used for ornamental use should be planted in mid to late Summer depending on the time needed for the variety selected. Some of the more common types of Winter squash are: Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, and Spaghetti.
Winter squash will keep from two to six months or more depending on the variety and storage conditions. They are usually stored over the Winter months, hence their name. Mature Winter squash have very hard skins that cannot be punctured with your thumbnail. They typically have very hard seeds also. In addition, the fresh, bright, juvenile surface sheen will change to a dull, dry-appearing surface. Being that they have such hard shells,the skin of Winter squash is inedible. It must be peeled before cooking/eating, or the flesh should be scooped out of it after cooking.
Many people will tell you there is only one way to prepare Winter Squash, and that is to cut it up into chunks or slices and cook. There really are two easier ways to cook Winter squashes of any size. The fast way is to prick a squash with a sharp knife, place it in a microwave and allow it to cook on high for at least ten minutes. Many will require more time, depending on size of squash and power of your microwave. You’ll have to keep checking until the squash is soft and pliable. This will steam the squash. Cut it in half, discard the seeds and scoop out the interior. Now it’s ready for freezing, turning it into a casserole, pie,or mixing with mashed potatoes.
The other way is in the oven, Prick the skin and roast at 350 degrees for about one hour.

Some varieties of Summer Squash

Summer squash grows quickly and can be harvested about 55 days after planting. They are generally divided into four groups, crookneck, zucchini (green and yellow), straightneck, and scallop (pattypan). They have thin, edible skins and soft seeds. The seeds can be scooped out or left in. The Summer squash will spoil rapidly after picking and you should cook it and eat it as soon as possible. Because of their high water content, they do best when cooked with dry-heat methods such as stir frying, grilling or sauteing to avoid turning them into mush, unless you like that. Of course, cooking by steaming, simmering in a sauce, baking or deep-frying are also fine.
Having them grow in your garden is relatively easy.
All types of squash and pumpkins are highly susceptible to frost and should be planted in the garden after all danger of frost is over. Squash seeds do not germinate well in cold soil. Plant squash in full sun. They can be planted in rows spaced 3 feet apart or they can also be planted in hills. Rows should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart, with hills 3 to 4 feet apart within the row. Place two or three seeds in each hill.
Watering should be done to provide uniform moisture, extremes between wet and dry will affect your crop. Water sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Light sprinklings will encourage shallow rooting of the plants. The critical period for moisture is during fruit set and fruit development.
A problem with Summer squash is the rotting of the blossom end of the fruit, called blossom-end rot. The main symptom is a dark-colored dry rot of the blossom end of the fruit. Blossom-end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the developing fruit. It may be an indication that calcium is lacking in the soil or that the plant does not have the ability to take up adequate amounts of calcium from the soil.
The most common diseases of squash and pumpkins are bacterial wilt (spread by cucumber beetles), powdery mildew, downy mildew, fruit rot, and anthracnose. Powdery mildew can be a particular problem on late-planted squash. It is the most common and damaging disease of pumpkins.
Insect problems include spotted cucumber beetles, striped cucumber beetles, pickleworms, squash vine borers, aphids and squash bugs. Aphids are a major problem because they can also transmit viruses to the plants. Squash vine borers can cause total collapse of the plant. Plant early because squash vine borers and pickleworms are problems later in the season.
Please, don't let these diseases and pests deter you from growing Squash. If you want another reason to grow them. One of my mothers favorite foods does not even come from the squash itself. She likes the flowers.

The blossoms from Summer and Winter squash are edible. Choose blossoms that have closed buds. They will be somewhat limp, but this is normal. Store them, refrigerated, for no more than one day. They can be eaten raw as garnish, in salads, battered and fried or stuffed and baked.
Ricotta Stuffed Blossoms


I know what some of you are saying, I would LOVE to grow some Squash, but I can't. I have limited space. I have the answer for you! There are some varieties that have a bush-type of growth instead of the vining habit, which is useful if your garden is small. Some of these varieties that you can look for include: Gold Bar (a yellow zucchini), Starburst (a yellow patty-pan), Bush Crookneck, Bushkin Pumpkin and Burpee's Bush Table Queen, just to name a few. Make sure you look in your seed catalog, they should tell you whether they are bush or vining.
One last suggestion would be to grow them on a trellis.

Well, I hope this has given you some inspiration to try something new this year in your garden or to revisit an old friend that you haven't grown in years. I also hope that I have explained the difference between Summer and Winter squashes so when you get put on Jeopardy, you will can win it all! I'll bet Alex Trebek can't tell you the difference!?
Happy Growing!


  1. Yes! i think winter and summer are totally different from each other...i have gained lots of info from your post..thanks!

    Minnesota Landscape