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Winter Squash Damage at Your Small Kitchen Garden

I’ve written about squash flowers repeatedly in this and other blogs. Every morning in late summer, a new crop of flowers emerges. Blossoms remain full and open in the cool of morning, but they start to fade in the afternoon. If a female flower doesn’t get pollinated on the morning it opens, it probably won’t get pollinated.

Winter squashes are among my favorite harvests from my small kitchen garden. In late summer, winter squash plants put on a spectacular show as they blanket the planting bed and pop out dozens of bright orange blossoms. Squash fruits grow from miniature to full-size in a matter of a week or two—and for some types of winter squash, those fruits can be ginormous.

Winter squashes have rich, earthy flavors that work well sweet or savory… but that easily seduce you into mixing sweet and savory in the same dish. One of my favorite ways to prepare squash is to grill it with a light sprinkling of salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, and brown sugar. 

Winter Squash is Resilient and Durable

There’s a benefit of winter squash that many kitchen gardeners don’t consider when planning their gardens: some winter squashes are amazingly durable and resistant to damage. These characteristics make winter squashes extremely low-maintenance, long-term storage food products.

I picked this squash shortly after a small animal had chewed it up around the stem as you can see in the photo on the left. I set the squash to cure where it stayed warm and dry, and about a month later the damage had healed (as you can see in the photo on the right)! Even after such a sketchy beginning, the squash held up nicely until it suffered a new malady in April.

Six months after harvest from my small kitchen garden, this neck pumpkin was as healthy as I could hope. Yes, it’s the squash from the earlier pair of photos. Sadly, here after 6 months, gouges began to appear where last summer’s damage had healed.

As I explained in an earlier post titled Store Butternut Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden, winter squash left on the floor of a mildly cool and dry room can keep from harvest through mid spring. In fact, even today (May 1) I have a few neck pumpkins on my dining room floor; they’ll be nearly as good eating today as they would have been last November.

As you’ll see in the photos, winter squashes protect themselves from damage. I harvested a neck pumpkin last fall that had all kinds of tooth marks from a small rodent. Many of those marks went through the squash’s skin. Within a month, all the holes in that squash had healed; the fruit had grown scabs and new skin even without assistance from an attached, healthy plant.

It became apparent that something was eating my carefully-stored winter squash… and it should have been no surprise: the residential rhubarb inspector of past blog posts is also a residential winter squash chomper. The year in which a puppy joins your household is not a good year to store winter squash on your dining room floor.

New Winter Squash Malady

While my winter squashes have kept well on my dining room floor, in April they began to show signs of an unlikely malady. Scratches appeared near the stem ends, and eventually whole sections of skin simply vanished. The cause became clear: PUPPY! Our chocolate lab puppy, Nutmeg, apparently likes the flavor of squash as much as I do.

Sadly, the squashes she has chewed aren’t healing; exposed damp surfaces have grown mold.

So, I offer an observation to amend my earlier post about storing winter squash: make sure the cool, dry floor where your store your squash is out of reach of family pets.

Our residential rhubarb inspector doubles as a residential dishwasher inspector. She gave me this look when I asked her if she had any idea what might be damaging the winter squash. It’s kind of impressive that so many puppies make it to adulthood.

 

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