I havent’ had the
time energy to do a full on report on winter squash after last year’s little experiment so I thought I’d start with a few summary notes, all from a purely personal perspective based on what I like to eat and how I store my squash. I have a hive of bees about 150′ away from the squash patch and they were all over the squash, so pollination was not an issue. I like to eat squash simply by roasting them, splitting them in half and putting a little butter on them. During the winter I’ll eat some with most dinners as I really enjoy them and eat them like dessert.
I have a large shop, think barn and you’ll be pretty close. I live in the Willamette Valley where most of the winter the temperature is in the 30’s and 40’s with 100 percent humidity, so think “large outside refrigerator”. It sometimes gets cold, like it did in December when the temps got down around zero for the first time in 40 years, and I had to scramble to move everything into a small heated room I maintain in the shop, but most years everything sits happily outside even when the outdoor temp drops into the 20’s for a while. I put the squash on shelves and the overflow of small squash in milk crates or such and so far it’s worked well enough. My onions and potatoes live next to them.
Last year I put in about 15 or so winter squash varieties, about 5-10 vines of each except for the Delicatas which probably had 20-25 vines. I tried a lot of varieties that were recommended for this area and some were complete losers for me. Two varieties I tried were Guatemalan Blue and Sibley, both blue/green elongated “football” shaped squash. They both yielded very poorly and didn’t store worth a darn. In fact, they all rotted before I had a chance to eat more than one of them and I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the taste so they won’t be regrown here.
Much better was Black Futsu, a buttercup type of squash. It grew well and produced a ton of smallish squash in the two pound range which stored pretty well. With the Black Futsu it’s just a matter of taste, as the flesh was extremely dry, even butter didn’t make it palatable for me to eat roasted. If you like to cook with squash it might be nice as it wouldn’t add any water to a recipe but for fresh eating I didn’t care for it.
I grew both Carol Deppe’s Oregon Homestead and Katy Stoke’s Sweet Meat which seem to be different selections of the same strain. They both grew well and produced a fair number of large squash, mainly around 10 pounds or a foot or so in diameter. The total yield was good despite a somewhat smaller number of squash due to their size. I’d say each vine probably produced 2, perhaps 3 squash, which gave me a total of about 25 for a 60′ row. I stored them until Thanksgiving before eating and they’re good, not great, but good. I wouldn’t be upset if they were the only squash I had to eat but I wouldn’t be happy, but again this is purely a report of my personal preferences, yours may vary. Storage has been good but not great, I’ve had 10-20 percent losses. Rot seems to start around the stem and spread, even though I left the stems attached to avoid damage there.
On to the winners…This is the first time I’ve grown Thelma Saunders’ Sweet Potato Squash. The seeds came from Baker Creek. I have some less than successful seeds from Baker Creek but squash seems to be one of their better seeds. They yielded extremely well and the squash averaged 1-2 pounds, about the size of a large acorn or a little bigger, with tan skin and ribs. The flavor and consistency is fantastic, only a slight bit behind the Delicata and slightly different so it makes a nice change. I’ll definitely be growing these again this year.
I grew a packet of Sunshine squash, a hybrid developed by Johnny’s. It was a GOOD squash, don’t take me wrong. It produced pretty well although I didn’t see the size that was claimed, most of mine were 6″-8″ in size. They are beautiful squash, bright orange and look fantastic in the field. They taste good, almost great, and I’m sure many would find them to be their favorite. For me, if the Delicatas score 100, the Sunshine scored a 90, it’s just that when I go to the shop to select squash to cook, I almost always reach for the Delicata not the Sunshine. I don’t think I’ll grow them again this year but I would not discourage anyone else from trying them as they are excellent.
The overall winner for me are the Delicatas. I grew two strains, Carol Deppe’s selection and some seeds from Fedco of their strain. The two strains showed some minor differences in color and size but nothing detectable by me on the dinner table. The flesh is extremely sweet with just the right consistency, not too soft and not too stringy, pretty much like a really good sweet potato. The vines produced well, giving me about 120 squash from about 25 vines (fairly closely planted). The funny thing is that they store extremely well for me. It’s the middle of January and I’ve had perhaps 5-10 percent spoilage in storage and they’ll keep for another couple of months at least. I’ve often heard that Delicata don’t store well but they love the conditions in my barn, as do the Thelma Saunders’ squash which have also had almost no spoilage.
All in all it looks like this year will see a long row of Delicata and a long row of Thelma Saunders’ Sweet Potato Squash. My experiment for this year will be a couple of strains of Butternut. I used to grow a ton of these in the midwest but haven’t grown any moschata squash here in the PNW due to their long season. I’ll get them started early with some row cover and see how they do as they are good eating and can produce very well, plus they’ll be easy to save seed from since they’ll be the only moschata in the area.
Still working on getting the seed order together. Fortunately last year I did a big order and don’t need to buy much this year. Don’t forget, if there’s something you like and know you’ll use next year, buy enough for several years (except parsnips and onions) and store it well because if you buy from places like Fedco or Johnny’s the price drops a lot if you buy by the ounce instead of by the packet. Most seeds are good for at least 3 years, so I tend to buy ounces or more of my favorites. Some seeds are easy to save, and I save a lot, but some like carrots or cauliflower are tough and I leave it to the experts with good isolation and big fields for selection as I’ve found it pays off greatly in the results.