Winter Squash (Part I): An Introduction to the Sweetest Vegetable
Hey there! Welcome to Part 1 of a our three-post series about one of the most delectable vegetable crops out there: Winter Squash. In this post you’ll meet the incredible, edible squash plant and (hopefully) get ready to grow the cucurbit of your dreams in your own garden this upcoming season!
Why eat it?
It’s tough to argue against the deliciousness of squash, particularly given its standout role in pies and breads (sugar and grains...what’s not to love?). Looking beyond the scope of our taste buds, there is a bounty of reasons why there should be more squash on all our plates, at least 75% of the year.
Let’s start with the anthropocentric view of squash, which isn’t hard to do since it’s been cultivated and bred for our tastes throughout the past 10,000 years. Squash are packed with macronutrients including complex carbohydrates and fiber, as well as micronutrients like potassium, niacin, iron, and beta carotene. I won’t feign to be an expert in nutrition, so I encourage you to poke around the USDA and CDC articles on diet. You may notice that squash shows up, more than a few times, across a range of dietary elements.
But it’s not only “good for us” to eat, it’s just good. During a storage quality variety trial that I carried out in the winter of 2018/2019, the sweetest squash showed sugar content that rivaled that of some melons. Even better, the sugar content improves over the course of the winter. That means that come February, you could be delighting in the sweetest bites of the hefty gourds that you harvested in September!
Why grow it?
Beyond the gastronomic merits of the Cucurbita crops, they also serve a vital role in the farm or garden ecosystem. The proliferation of large, pollen-dense flowers creates a perfect buffet of food for bees and other pollinators. It’s such an appetizing environment that the flowers often have hungry bugs inside their shroud before the petals fully open, which can make saving those flowers for our own stuffed, pan-fried consumption a little more crunchy and protein-dense.
Perhaps the most legendary role squash serves in an ecosystem is that of the ground cover in an indigenous Three Sisters companion planting model. When planted in this way, the broad squash leaves help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Not interested in growing a companion garden? No problem, you’ll still see the benefits of the large, sprawling plant structure in low water demand and less time spent pulling weeds.
These pictures show the same squash field over the course of 9 days. Aren’t you just in awe of these enormous, weed-stopping plants?
For more information on Three Sisters gardens and the history behind this system, check out this link: https://www.nativeseeds.org/learn/nss-blog/415-3sisters