Growing squash in your garden gives a lot of options. A polytunnel with the right cover can make it easier to achieve good results here in the UK. But which types of squash should you consider, and when should you grow them? Here are some squash types explained:
All summer squash are frost-tender, warm-season annuals. They are usually started as seedlings indoors, and then transplanted to their final growing positions (in temperate climates) once all risk of frost has passed and the soil has warmed sufficiently. Generally speaking, planting out is undertaken around a month after the last frost date.
They should be grown, generally speaking, in fertile, moisture retentive yet free-draining soil, and have fairly high nutrient and water needs. Some vining squash are best grown against trellising and all can be supported for space-savings.
All squash can often be good companion plants – they provide good ground over and help retain soil moisture. One of the most common companion planting schemes or polycultures for squash is the ‘three sisters’ planting plan. This plan, utilised by Native Americans and often now included in permaculture garden designs, involves planting squash or pumpkins around corn and beans. Nasturtiums can make good trap crops for pests that can plague squash, and can benefit the plants when grown nearby.
Summer squash are squashes that are usually harvested while they are immature, and the rind is still tender and edible. Most are varieties of Cucurbita pepo, but not all Cucurbita pepo are considered to be summer squashes.
Courgettes are one of the most common summer squash varieties. They are a great choice, and can be grown in a wide range of gardens, in a wide range of climate zones. There are plenty of heritage varieties to choose from, as well as more modern hybrid types. The flesh is generally of average sweetness and the flesh is moderately firm.
Courgettes are best harvested when they are young and small. As they grow they become rather watery and less flavoursome and can become very large marrows by the end of the season. Harvesting regularly while they are small will help to ensure that fruits continue to form over a longer period.
To ring the changes you could also consider growing some yellow zucchini varieties. These have all the same characteristics as green zucchini, but yellow fruits, which some consider makes them easier to spot and harvest before they get too large. There are also other hybrid varieties that are striped with yellow and green. When small, these different hues can make your them look great in a salad.
Small, Round Courgettes and Summer Squashes
There are a range of small, round summer squashes and courgettesto choose from. Some are heritage varieties, and some are hybrid types. Small, round courgettes are exactly like regular courgettes in taste and characteristics, but their shape makes them ideal for stuffing, or for using a serving bowls for soup. Other small, round summer squashes may have tougher skin, and different taste and texture, but can also be used in the same way.
Patty pan, or scallop edge squashes are small summer squash that look like little UFOs or flying saucers, with scalloped edges around the middle. Patty pan squash come in a range of colours – most often dark green, light green or yellow – though all taste more or less the same. One of the good things about these squash is that they are tougher than other types of summer squash and zucchini, and so can withstand longer cooking times at higher temperatures.
Crookneck squash are sometimes also referred to as yellow squash. As the name suggests, they have a bent shape, and are narrower at the top end than at the bottom. The yellow skin can be either smooth or bumpy. This summer squash is a bushy type, and should not be confused with crookneck cultivars of cucurbita moschata or the vining summer squash ‘Tromboncino’. Generally, these are harvested immature, when less than 2 inches in diameter. However, even immature, they tend to be a little tougher, and have a milder taste than other summer squashes.
Now we’ve covered some of the popular types of summer squash, let’s take a look at some of the winter squash and pumpkins you could consider growing in your garden. Like summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins are generally planted once the soil has warmed in the spring. Unlike summer squash, however, these types are usually left on the plants to mature fully before they are harvested in the fall. They will like similar growing conditions to summer squash, but tend to be vining in habit, and often more vigorous.
Winter squash and pumpkins can also be supported/ trained in order to save space in the garden, and will also respond well when companion planted with corn and beans in the ‘three sisters’ planting scheme.
Unlike summer squash, which are harvested young and tender, with these types you should wait to harvest until the skin has thickened and hardened, and the surface dulled to a matte rather than a shiny finish before you cut the stem just above the fruit and leave the squash or pumpkins to cure before storing them for winter.
Winter squashes can belong to a number of different species within the genus Curcurbita. These can include pumpkins, which are commonly Cucurbita pepo but which can also be derived from Cucurbita maxima, C. argyrosperma and C. moschata. A number of types are referred to interchangeably as winter squash or pumpkins.
Here are some of the winter squash or pumpkin types that you could consider:
One of the most easily recognised squash is the butternut squash. It is a pale orangey-yellow colour and has a pear-like shape. A bulbous bottom houses the seeds and a thinner neck protrudes above. The more orange the exterior, the drier, riper and sweeter the flesh will be. The taste and texture of the cooked squash is similar to sweet potato, and it is a good choice for use in soups and blended recipes. The skin is quite easy to peel (but can be left on when roasting), and the whole butternut squash can store for up to three months.
These small, round squash come in a range of hues, but are commonly darker green with orange markings. Squash are best harvested before too much orange coloration appears, as the more orange the become, the tougher and more fibrous they will be. The flesh is yellowish orange in colour and has a mild sweet and nutty flavour which makes them incredibly versatile. You can use these squash in a wide range of recipes. However, it is best not to store these for more than a month.
These winter squash are a Japanese variety that are also sometimes referred to as Japanese pumpkin. They are fairly small and squat, and most often, have dark green skin. The flesh is bright orange and tastes like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin. In Japan, it is commonly cut into chunks for tempura, though it can also be used in a wide range of other recipes. The whole squash can be stored successfully for only a month or so.
Red Kuri/ Uchiki
Another Japanese squash type is that of Red Kuri/ Uchiki. These smallish, onion-shaped winter squash can offer excellent yields in the right location. They have a delicious, mildly sweet, chestnut-like flavour and are very versatile since the flesh has a dense texture that holds together well when cooked, but which can also be blended to a smooth puree. This is technically one of the Hubbard group of squashes (see below)
There are many different Hubbart type squash, which can vary quite a lot in their appearance and coloration. Generally speaking, these types of squash are large in size, with thick, tough and lumpy skin and sweet, orange flesh.
Spaghetti squash come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, but are frequently yellow to orange in colour. The centre contains many large seeds and the flesh, when raw, is solid and similar to other squash. When it is cooked, however, the flesh falls apart into ribbons or strands which can be substituted as a low-carb, healthier alternative to spaghetti or noodles.
Sweet dumpling squash are small and compact in form. They have whiteish-yellow skin with green striations, and the skin can also be eaten. As the name suggests, this is a sweet squash, with a taste and texture when cooked that is similar to sweet potato.
Turban squash all share in common their shape, which really does resemble a turban, with a smaller round protuberance at the blossom end perched above a larger rounded form. These are very decorative squash which have bumpy skin in a wide range of colours.
There are of course a range of other options to consider, but these are some types of squash to consider growing in your polytunnel garden.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.