Squash seeds tend to grow into large sprawling plants that cover every bare spot within several feet of where they are planted. Pumpkins, gourds, summer squash and winter squash all come under this family of plants that is broken down into four groups. They tend to be abundant producers and most varieties are easily stored for several months, and can even last until the following harvest under ideal conditions. Squash seeds can be harvested and saved for planting the following season.
The history of squash seeds began in South America from where they’ve have traveled throughout North America. They are one of the foods the Indians gave to the Pilgrims, helping them endure a hard winter and part of the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving with Pumpkin pie today. The word squash means, eaten raw or uncooked, and derives from the word “askutasquash” which is from the Massachuset Indian Tribe.
Squash will grow well in most regions in the U.S., although the plant prefers long, dry, hot summers. It is popular in areas of Europe that have similar conditions, including Italy; however Northern Europe has less success due to the cooler and wetter season.
Squash seeds can be started indoors for transplanting once frost has passed. Most home gardeners plant more than one variety of winter squash and at least one of summer squash such as crook necks. The blossoms can also be picked and eaten fresh in salads or battered and fried. They offer a tender bite and delicate flavor, perfect in fresh salads.
Summer squash seed varieties include:
- Straight necks These and crook necked squash are great raw or cooked.
- Crook necks Peel or wash and eat raw or cooked
- Zucchini Standby for all kinds of cooking, sauteed or shredded into baked goods.
When planted early, most of these varieties will continue to provide produce throughout the summer. They can grow into large squash, but offer the best flavor and texture when harvested at approximately 6-8 inches for all but the patty pan which should be about 3-4 inches in diameter. Plant squash seeds approximately 42-65 days before planning to harvest, depending on the variety. I like planting them in with my corn as I'm sure a lot of people do, finding hidden treasures in the fall.
Winter squash seeds include the following popular choices as well as numerous other varieties:
- Acorn This is my personal favorite winter squash, cut in half and baked, and served with nearly every meal.
- Butternut My family has traditionally served these mashed with just a little butter to enhance their natural sweet flavor. My grandmother often substituted this for pumpkin in pumpkin pie recipes.
- Turk’s Turban This needs to cook a little longer than the Butternut, but offers a great taste.
- Pumpkins Perfect for pumpkin pies, save the seeds for roasting or for planting the following year.
- Spaghetti Squash Use in place of spaghetti.
- Hubbard This giant may take some work to get into, but it's well worth it. My grandmother at ninety, with her walker, would swing her kitchen axe to cut it apart because she liked the flavor so well.
On a personal note, Butternuts have to be one of the easiest plants in the world to grow. When I was young, my grandmother gave me a handful of seeds she had saved from the summer before, and told me to plant them next to a fence post where the cattle wouldn’t stomp on them. I did so and promptly forgot them. They received no tender loving care or any water outside of rain. At the end of the summer this handful of Butternut squash seeds had produced over one thousand squash, filling three family members cellars not counting was given away. I certainly can’t guarantee this type of result, but every year when planting, I very carefully plant only a limited number of seeds.
Start squash seeds indoors and transplant to the garden or sow them directly into the soil depending on the length of the growing season. The seeds can be dried and eaten as a snack or they can be ground into butters or flour. Flour alternatives are becoming popular with people who are searching for alternatives to gluten. Don’t forget to save some squash seeds for planting for the following season.