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Choosing a squash variety

Winter squash varieties vary enormously. To get the best experience it is well worth taking some time and choosing a variety to grow that will perform well in your specific garden, and which will be fully enjoyed in the kitchen. This article discusses the factors to consider.

 

• Earliness

Winter squashes take about four to five months from sowing to producing mature fruit, though exactly how long this takes depends to a great extent on the variety.

• Growth habits

Winter squash disply three types of growth habits ­– bushy, semi-bushy and trailing – though where one stops and the other begins is highly subjective.

Winter squash that has a bush growth habit Spreading squashes
Gold Nugget
has a bush growth habit; Crown Prince and Harlequin have trailing trailing growth habit and must be given a large area to grow.

 

• Yield

Both fruit size and the number of fruits per plant are traits that vary from variety to variety. They both affect total yield per plant, though to some extent one sometimes compensates for the other.

• Mildew resistance

Winter squashes are susceptible to mildew infection, though some varieties are more susceptible than others.

• Flavour and taste

Not all winter squashes taste the same, and the nutty, sweet or honey-like taste of some, for example, makes for an enjoyable eating experience. In contrast, the bland or tea-like taste of others can be off-putting, though the addition of sugar or other flavour enhancers may correct any shortcomings.

• Texture

The texture of the flesh varies considerably and can be described in contrasting terms such as sticky vs. floury; moist vs. dry; and stringy vs. smooth.

• Flesh colour

Flesh colour ranges from an anaemic ivory white to an appealing dark orange.

Winter squash var Crown Prince showing its orange flesh

Crown Prince has a deep orange flesh.

• Flesh thickness

Flesh thickness depends on the size of the fruit in relation to the size of the internal cavity. The thicker the flesh, the better it is for chopping up and roasting like potatoes. The necks of butternut squashes are solid flesh, and so are ideal candidates for the roasting pan.

• Storability

If they are properly harvested, cured and stored, some winter squashes can last to the spring. Others, however, store for much shorter periods, and won’t make it through the New Year.