Food and Cuisine

Published on October 8th, 2013 | by Jami Scholl

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How to Choose Pumpkins for Eating and Growing

October is the month of harvest: pumpkins are harvested for jack o’ lanterns and winter squashes are picked to be stored for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Pumpkins and winter squash can be harvested and stored through much of the winter – if you know how to choose, grow and store them properly.

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Is there a difference between pumpkins and winter squashes? Much of the distinction goes beyond what they look like on the outside, to what is inside the shell. Although the flesh and seeds of both look very similar and taste similar, it is the graininess and strength of flavor that most easily differentiates the two. In North America we often think of only those round, orange things associated with Halloween as pumpkins, but according to this article, “in many parts of the world the entire category of winter squash is called pumpkin. Sometimes the name of the particular squash variety precedes the word pumpkin (such as Kabocha Pumpkin or butternut pumpkin) but other times the word pumpkin alone is used to mean any winter squash.”

If you plan to garden next year, now is the time to experiment to find which varieties you like the most for your favorite recipes. Butternut, acorn, kuri, kabocha, delicata are some of the common varieties that offer a wide range of taste and texture, but there are many others you might find you enjoy as well. Here are some recipes to get you started with the wide variety of Cucurbits (the squash family) you’ll find in the markets and stores this time of year:

Once you know the answers to these questions, it will be easier to narrow down to which varieties you would like to eat next year. When ordering seeds or purchasing seedlings in the spring, be sure that you have proper space to grow the vines. Remember you can grow many of these vertically if they are a vining variety and do not grow fruit that is too large in size to hold aloft.

Planting should be to soil that is no colder than 68 degrees, and with no danger of frost. Soil amendments or fertilizer is best applied after a soil test. Mulch will conserve moisture and control weeds. Pests that bother these plants include the squash bug, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle, and aphids. Diseases include powdery mildew, downy mildew, leaf spot, black rot, stem blights, mosaic viruses and bacterial wilt, though these afflictions may differ depending on where you live. It may be confusing to a new gardener to see such beautiful strong plants not have fruits from every blossom. This is because some of the blossoms are male and others female; it is the female blossoms that set fruit.

Before harvesting pumpkins and winter squashes, be sure they are fully mature. Leave on stems for as long as possible, but be sure to harvest before a hard frost as this will affect it’s storage. Store only fruits that do not have cuts or other sorts of wounds, insect or disease damage. After harvest fruit should be cured in order to harden the shell. This is accomplished through keeping the fruits at 75-85 degrees for two weeks in a location that has air circulation. After the squashes and pumpkins are cured, store at 50-70 degrees with humidity between 50-70 percent. If you plan on storing other fruits and vegetables in the same location, check to determine the best temperature and humidity level for each. If the temperature of humidity level is not in the recommended range, then your fruits will not store for the duration of winter.

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Pumpkin image and variety of pumpkins image from Shutterstock



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