Growing Winter Squash in Northeast Florida Vegetable Gardens
( Cucurbita maxima or Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita moschata )
Squash plants are classified into summer and winter squash not by when they grow but when they are traditionally eaten. Summer squash has tender skins that damage quickly during storage and are consumed fresh off the plant during the summer production months. Winter squash may take a bit longer to mature than summer squash (sometimes double the time needed to produce summer squash) but will also grow and produce fruit during the summer months in Northeast Florida. When planted in early March, winter squash will be ready to harvest as soon as July.
Pumpkins are types of winter squash, sometimes categorized in seed catalogues under pumpkin, and sometimes as winter squash! But they are winter squash varieties none the less.
Winter squash, can be eaten when young before the skins have formed the tough outer shell, but are traditionally allowed to develop on the vine until the flesh when pressed with a thumbnail at it’s base, is not able to be punctured. At that point winter squash is harvested and “hardened off” or “cured” in a warm dark location for a brief period (a week to 10 days). Once cured, winter squash can be stored up to 6 months before being eaten and taste every bit as delicious as they did the first week!
Foliage of Winter Squash Plants for Northeast Florida vegetable gardens:
Winter Squash vines are large rambling plants that require allot of garden space to grow if allowed to grow traditionally as a ground cover. Some small space gardeners provide sturdy homemade trellis systems and train the vines skyward with great success. Be sure not to overcrowd them either way you choose to grow winter squash so that the sunlight has access to dry the foliage. Squash foliage exposed to sun and plenty of air circulation is a necessity for the Northeast Florida area where frequent rains make downy mildew problematic for squash plants.
Use of Winter Squash Plants for Northeast Florida vegetable gardens:
Squash fruits can be eaten steamed, roasted, boiled, or baked. Their flavors and textures range drastically by variety. Squash blossoms are a delectable delicacy that if you have not tried yet you should, you will love them! Thy can be sauteed or battered and fried, both delicious!
Planting Season for Winter Squash in Jacksonville and St. Augustine Florida and the surrounding areas:
Winter Squash plants are considered a warm season crop, they are frost sensitive and should only be planted in frost free months in Northeast Florida vegetable gardens.
Winter squash can be planted out into the Northeast Florida vegetable garden from March to August!
Sun Exposure for Growing Winter Squash in Northeast Florida Vegetable Gardens:
Plant your Winter Squash in a full sun or part sun part shade locations. Afternoon sun with morning shade is preferable for the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area garden. (Morning sun and afternoon shade can cause leaf mildew problems as the foliage will remain moist overnight after rains and irrigating)
Soil Preferences for Winter Squash / Cucurbita maxima in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine Florida areas:
Winter squash will do best in the Northeast Florida garden when grown in soils that have been generously amended with compost. Be sure to plant into well drained soils.
It is often recommended to plant summer squash into raised planters or small hills 24 inches wide and 10 inches high. In Northeast Florida, Jacksonville and St. Augustine area this is especially important, as this will keep the roots up out of water logged soils after heavy rains.
Care of Winter Squash in the Northeast Florida Vegetable Garden:
Watering Your Winter Squash:
* Important, when supplemental irrigation is needed, keep water off leaves as much as possible and make sure to water in the morning so that the plants leaves can dry and won’t remain wet overnight. Newly planted winter squash will require watering daily for the first few days to a week after being planted from seed or transplanted from an S & J Nursery container.
Once the winter squash plants are established and growing, be sure to keep the soil moist by watering at least once per week if rainfall is scarce.
Mulching your Winter Squash:
For maximum growth potential, mulch plants generously, this will help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay.
Fertilizing Your Winter Squash:
Wait until your squash plants have set blooms then feed every two to three weeks with an all purpose fertilizer like 6-6-6.
Or for an organic approach, try fertilizing with a mixture of fish emulsions and seaweed (kelp) at one ounce each per gallon of water. Apply semi weekly as a foliar spray.
If your vegetable plants look like they could use a boost, give them a good watering with homemade compost tea as soon as the top few inches of soil around your plant is dry to the touch!
Harvesting and Storing Your Winter Squash in the Northeast Florida Vegetable Garden:
Winter squash can be harvested when young and skins are till tender if eaten within a week or harvesting. To store your winter squash for future use, be sure to harvest once skins are hardened. A thumbnail pressed into the base of the fruit should resist puncture when fruits are ready to be harvested for storage. Fruits can be rinsed in an extremely mild bleach water solution ( just a few drops of bleach in the kitchen sink full of water will be more than enough), then kept in a warm dark room for a week to 10 days to cure before storing in boxes or crates all stacked together. Cured winter squash can be kept in a cool room for up to 6 months time.