By Bev Sandlin
Winter squash is a wonderful plant. Super easy to grow and store. Not only are the fruits of the plant edible (yes, technically it is a fruit) but the shoots, leaves, tendrils can be eaten as greens, cooked or raw. The seeds can be ground into paste, meal, flour, pressed into an oil, crushed to create a nut butter, eaten raw or dried and seasoned to create a delicious snack. Even squash flowers are edible!
I usually plant mine at the edge of the garden and point them into the horse pasture. The horses eat the grass around them but never damage the vines or fruit. Squash are also part of the Native American “Three Sisters” comprised of corn, squash and beans. These three crops were staples of the Native American diet. Planted together the beans climb the corn stalks and fix nitrogen into the soil and the squash shields the ground keeping weeds to a minimum.
Two weeks before harvest, cut your squash vines 2-4” above the fruit. Let them dry in the garden to harden off their skins. Before a hard frost, gently gather them up and store them in a dark place. Cool and dry is not as important as dry. They store better in the attic than in a damp basement. If you bruise one or the stem breaks off, use those first. Squash will often store until spring.
The seeds are very easy to save, just clean, dry and put them in an envelope for use in the spring. It is often advised to plant only one variety of squash at a time because they will cross pollinate. Male and female blossoms are on the same plant. If bees are not prevalent in your area, hand pollinating may be an option.
Squash can be eaten raw, cooked in a variety of ways, made into soups or sweet bars. Just find a recipe book and start looking for something that suits your palate!
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