Top Winter Squash Varieties for the Self-Sufficient Garden

A truly self-sufficient garden includes plenty of storage crops, such as a few types of winter squash. Discover some new winter squash varieties based on reader and expert recommendations, plus learn how to combat common squash pests.

| April/May 2015

If you’re gardening to raise as much food for your household as possible, winter squash should be near the top of your planting list. Heaps of winter squash varieties are nutritious and easy to store, but which will grow best in your region? And how should you deal with pest challenges?

To give you the scoop on squash, we surveyed a few hundred readers and Facebook fans, and we touched base with organic farmers around the country who are big into this crop. Respondents offered up their six favorite winter squash types, listed here in order of popularity. You’ll also find cooking advice and preferred varieties. Warning: You may want to try them all! Use our Seed and Plant Finder to locate seeds for these top winter squash varieties.

You can grow all types of winter squash in hills or in rows. Most varieties produce on large, sprawling vines. The easiest cultivation method is to create planting hills along the edges of your garden, and then to enrich the hills with plenty of compost or manure. Encourage the vines to run outside the garden to save space and prevent overcrowding. If possible, grow at least three plants of the same squash species to achieve the best pollination. In cool climates, you can mulch the plants with black plastic to warm the soil. Start plants indoors to gain growing time for late-maturing varieties. After harvest, cure winter squash by brushing off the dirt and allowing the fruits to rest for two weeks in a dry place where temperatures range from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Store cured fruits in a cool, dry place, such as your basement, a closet or beneath a bed. Check stored fruit every two weeks, and immediately cook any squash showing signs of spoilage.

1. Butternut Squash

Bulbous, smooth-skinned butternuts (Cucurbita moschata) get high marks among organic gardeners because the sturdy vines are naturally resistant to squash vine borers, and because squash bugs usually prefer other types of winter squash. Butternuts need up to 110 days of warm weather to produce a good crop, so they may not ripen fully in cool climates, especially if powdery mildew weakens the plants. Be sure to allow plenty of space for the vines, because butternuts don’t tolerate crowding. Properly cured fruits will store for six months or more.

Top varieties. Open-pollinated ‘Waltham’ produces 4- to 5-pound fruits on rambling vines that are susceptible to powdery mildew. Fruit size varies a bit, but many gardeners report that they can get large and medium fruits from a single plant. If you need more compact plants, try ‘Butterbush,’ an open-pollinated variety that bears small fruits weighing less than 2 pounds. For powdery mildew resistance, grow hybrid ‘JWS 6823 PMR’ for its vigorous vines that produce 3- to 4-pound fruits.

In the kitchen. Butternuts are easier to prepare than other types of winter squash because you can remove the rinds with a vegetable peeler. The deep-orange flesh is ideal for purées and soups. Roast butternut squash to remove moisture and caramelize its sugars, and to prepare a big fruit for use in multiple dishes.

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