Fall Harvest: A Little About Winter Squash

September 20, 2013 at 8:49 AM | Posted in vegetables | 1 Comment
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An assortment of winter squashes.

An assortment of winter squashes.

 

Winter squash is a summer-growing annual fruit, representing several squash species within the genus Cucurbita. It differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. At this stage, most varieties of this fruit can be stored for use during the winter. It is generally cooked before eating.

 

 

 

Because squash is a frost-tender vegetable, the seeds do not germinate in cold soil. Winter squash seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is 21 to 35 °C (70 to 95 °F), and the warmer end of the range is optimum. Seedlings are easily destroyed by frost, thus winter squash is best planted after the soil is thoroughly warmed and all sign of frost has passed.

 

 

 
Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the skin is hard. Most of the crop is harvested in September or October (Northern Hemisphere), before heavy frosts hit the planting area. When cutting squash from the vine, two inches of stem should remain attached if possible. Cuts and bruises should be avoided when handling. Fruits that are not fully mature, have been injured, have had their stems knocked off, or have been subjected to heavy frost will rot and should be used as soon as possible or be composted (watch for seedlings in the compost).

 

 

 

Butternut squash, a variety of winter squash

Butternut squash, a variety of winter squash

Winter squash is a low-calorie, good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
It is an excellent source of vitamin A, a great source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese, and a good source of folate, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B1 (thiamin), copper, tryptophan, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid).
It is also a source of iron and beta carotene. Usually, the darker the skin is, the higher the beta carotene content.

 

 

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