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Squash for Winter

Cucurbita maximus, and C. moschata

Cucurbita is the genus, and within it are various species that grow the squash fruits we eat. There is an excellent summary of cucurbits in Wikipedia.

The two species of this lesson are maximus and moschata, for winter squash. The species C. pepo includes all summer squash – see Lesson 14 in Course 3A.

  • C. maximus plants can be bushy or trailing. Maximus includes many common varieties: Buttercup, Hubbard, Kabocha, Kuri and Turban.
  • C. moschata are trailing plants that need more warmth than maximus to bring fruits to maturity, and the most commonly grown variety is Butternut.

The description ‘winter squash’ is for fruits that mature with a hard skin and dense, dry flesh. As a result, they store or keep for many months,  making them an excellent reserve of winter food, whatever the weather.

4th July 2020 – a squash bed interplanted with a few sweetcorn, seven weeks since transplanting
10th October 2013 – my first harvest of squash at Homeacres from new land, no dig and full of weeds in March; from left to right: Uchiki Kuri, Crown Prince and Buttercup
Crown Prince in halves; this is February, four months after harvesting, and the amazing coloured flesh offers deep and sweet tastes

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 120 for early varieties such as Red Kuri, from seed to last harvest: 180

  • Best climate is a warm or hot summer, with afternoon temperatures close to or above 22 °C/72 °F for at least two months, and average rainfall, say 50–100 mm/2–4 in per month.

So what is a pumpkin?

There is confusion between squash and pumpkin. ‘Pumpkin’ is used often to describe all Cucurbita plants; however, as Wikipedia says, ‘The term pumpkin has no agreed botanical or scientific meaning.’

I find it vague, because it is used to describe both what I would call true pumpkin, as well as the winter squash I describe here.

  • True pumpkin fruits are usually larger than squash, with softer skin and flesh that is less sweet.
  • They have a high water content, hence the heavy weight, and hence also the poor storage capability, often decomposing within two months of harvest.
  • There is not a clear boundary between what are called squash and what are called pumpkin. Sometimes we have been disappointed by squash when eating them, by a lack of flavour, and sometimes they also rot in storage more quickly than I expected, from the description given.
Ian Stott at Hauser and Wirth Somerset’s Pumpkin Festival in 2019, with his winner – a 167 kg/367 lb Atlantic Giant pumpkin
Weighing a pumpkin at the festival on 27th October 2019 – a two-person job

Why grow them

Just check these three conditions:

  1. Your climate is warm enough.
  2. You use appropriate timings for sowing and harvest.
  3. Your soil is fertile which, with no dig, means a minimum of 3 cm/1 in of surface mulch of old organic matter.

If all three conditions are met, you will have a bountiful harvest of excellent flavour which stores for several months.

There are few pests, although in North America the squash borer is a problem. I have never suffered it and read that a mesh cover from planting to early fruit stage can protect plants. In the UK at least there are few pests and these vegetables are easy to grow, mainly in the country’s warmer southern half.

30th May – squash plants, ten days after transplanting; yellowing grass shows how dry the weather has been through spring
28th July – the Crown Prince are trailing over dry grass; soon after this we had some rainstorms, which continued through August
Five weeks later, in early September, after dieback of the leaves; two squash have matured on the grass area and there were many roots into the grass-covered soil from the trailing stems

Pattern/phases of growth

Growth is exceptionally rapid in high summer, when leaves quickly grow large and high, and then soon die back again within a few weeks. In areas of temperate climate, with summers just warm enough to grow mature winter squash, it helps to understand squash growth in these phases. Phase 1 is not needed for climates with long, hot summers.

  1. Sow undercover with extra warmth, to have transplants ready by the date of your last frost.
  2. Growth is rapid in the warmth of high summer and when soil is fertile, with sufficient moisture.
  3. Like all cucurbits, squash plants root very rapidly into surface mulches of well-decomposed organic matter, on top of undisturbed soil.
  4. By late summer, new growth slows down, older leaves have mildew and fruits develop rapidly.
  5. With the onset of autumn, most leaves die and fruit develop a hard skin, at which point they can be cut to store.
  6. For a week after harvest, keep fruits as warm as possible so that  they ‘cure’, with skins becoming fully dry and hard.
12th July – there are six plants of Kuri squash here and they’re starting to invade the cabin!
As early as 7th September, the Kuri squash already have 15 ripe fruit with dark red, firm skin, but they are on the small side from being a little short of water
After a wet summer in 2012, the fruit are much larger; here’s the Kuri squash harvest on 5th October

Suitable for containers/shade?

Neither of these is easy, although growing in shade is possible if you are in a very hot climate. Plants need an extensive root run and space to grow many leaves. Use a container the size of a very large bucket or bigger, water regularly and give some feed too.

  • Kuri squash are worth a try, being smaller plants. They either need space to run outside the container or a support structure if the weather is not too windy.
  • If you give them the means to grow, they are adaptive, as you see in the photos below!
October 2012 – I grew a Kuri plant in a compost heap, which was enclosed by pallets
After sawing two planks of wood off the pallet, I could harvest the squashed squash!



  • Kuri varieties, sometimes called ‘onion squash’ because of the fruit’s shape, are fast to mature. They come with many names, including Red Kuri, Blue Kuri, Uchiki Kuri, Solor and Orange Hokkaido. The latter are a little larger, while most Kuri weigh 1–1.5 kg/2.2–3.3 lb.
  • Crown Prince are a reference point for sweetness, depth of flavour and longevity of storage. As well as being sweet, we really miss the ‘something extra’ in their flavour, when cooking with other, similar varieties. It’s available mostly as F1.
  • Marina di Chioggia tops many taste tests and is large – quite easily grows up to 6kg/13lb – but grows maybe just two fruits per plant. They are ribbed and not easy to peel, and the dark green skin at harvest turns golden brown when ripening in long-term storage.
  • Kabocha, from Japan, have dark green skin, orange flesh and are of medium weight on vigorous plants.
  • Buttercup is one of many ‘Turban‘ varieties, with dark green flesh and weighing 1.5–2 kg/3.3–4.4 lb. Plants stay reasonably compact.
Mid-October – the Crown Prince harvest from four plants, with an average weight of 3.7 kg/8.1 lb; this is a lot of food to see us through winter and spring
Musquee de Provence squash has excellent flavour and also stores very well
These Buttercup squash are ready to harvest on 10th October, shown by their stalks being mostly dry


Butternut are prominent in the UK as the default squash served in restaurants and pubs, thanks to their excellent flavour and keeping quality. A word of warning is that they need more warmth to grow and mature than other varieties here. I have had many frustrating autumns waiting for my butternuts to ripen before it was too cool, and often they did not so we ended up eating marrows!

Musquee de Provence is similar in appearance to Chioggia, a little smoother skinned but with a less sweet flavour. The flesh is a little less dense and fruits are even larger.

Musquee de Maroc is better looking than tasting – it has amazing warts and can be multicoloured in a hot summer, from green and yellow to orange and brown. The flesh is more watery than Musquee de Provence, so the fruits do not store for more than three months.

Summer squash, Twinkle F1 – they are highly productive, but a lot of the harvest is water, compared to winter squash
This selection of winter squash includes F1 hybrid Butternuts, which did not yield a lot but ripened earlier than open-pollinated Butternut


Winter squash offer an extra dimension of flavour, compared to pumpkins. It’s a combination of sweetness and also savoury, with a density of texture that makes them hard to enjoy on their own. Like potatoes, they need some fat, salt and soft accompaniments such as onions and leeks.

Stephanie Hafferty makes an amazing squash soup – see her book, The Creative Kitchen. A key part of the process is to dice the squash and roast it, before turning it into soup. The roasting brings out an incredible sweetness and extra flavour.

Kate Forrester, another chef who gardens at Homeacres, cuts Crown Prince into pieces or thin slices and does not remove the skin. When roasted, the skin is edible and tasty.

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Often plants clear the leaves dead from mildew and frost themselves, so you just need to rake off the stems which are like straw. Or, if clearing plants while they still have some leaves, twist or cut out the main stem, then you can easily fill a wheelbarrow with the contents of one plant. For a while that fills your whole compost heap, but soon it all diminishes and decomposes in the heap to just a small amount of fibre.

Weeds of squash under cucumber in the polytunnel; they came from homemade compost that had not heated enough, and were not difficult to remove
Broad beans sown after clearing winter squash in November 2011, with a new mulch of old horse manure

Follow with

Straight after clearing, give your annual dressing of compost or preferred organic matter. Then you could sow or transplant broad beans or garlic. Usually there isn’t time to sow a cover crop, but field beans are possible. Or leave the space empty until first sowings and plantings next spring.

Kuri squash finish earlier, after which we manage to transplant spinach and winter salads. This is in early autumn and often on the same day as we harvest the squash, because every day counts at that time of year