When Growing Acorn Squash, Familiarity Is Half The Fun
Folks in north and central America have been growing acorn squash since before Christopher Columbus made his historic ocean voyage to the North American continent – over 600 years ago – 1492 to be exact.
Acorn squash – AKA “pepper squash” or “Des Moines squash” – is a winter squash replete with top-to-bottom ridges that makes it look like the acorn vigorously sought after by squirrels – hence its name.
Acorn Squash Is Nutrient Rich
One cup contains only 56 calories – and, with that, the acorn squash delivers a host of nutrients designed to help sustain a healthy body.
- Fiber – Adds essential gut bacteria and keeps intestines cleaned out.
- Protein – For building and repairing bones, muscles, skin, and blood – as well as supporting the production of enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.
- Vitamin A – Making skin, eyes, and vision healthy and workin’ good – and building up the immune system.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – Converts carbs and sugar into energy that keeps the heart and muscles pumping at optimum levels.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – A necessity in supporting nerve functions – young and healthy skin – and the manufacture of red blood cells.
- Vitamin B9 (Folate) – Central to DNA and RNA makeup – as well as production of red and white blood cells. Also, an essential vitamin needed in the growth development of babies, toddlers, and fetuses in pregnant women – as it vigorously converts carbohydrates into energy.
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) – An amazing antioxidant that not only facilitates healing and body repair but, is also a key factor in collagen production. Collagen – by the way – is what makes the skin look younger. A lack of collagen leaves skin thin, wrinkly, and old looking.
- Iron – Needed to create hemoglobin – which transports oxygen from the lungs to the body. Without it, a condition of “iron deficient” anemia may result – which is actually a lack of red blood cells.
- Magnesium – Controls the body’s muscle functions – which helps our most important muscle, the heart, to keep beating with a consistent, healthy rhythm.
- Potassium – Reduces fluid in the kidneys, lowers blood pressure, and is a main nutrient to keep the body functioning well.
- Manganese – Aids in blood clotting, bone formation, and metabolizing carbs, sugars, and amino acids. Reduction of inflammation is another of its benefits.
These are not the only nutrients that acorn squash has to offer – but, they are the ones that are in the greatest concentrations.
Eating Acorn Squash
Personally, I like to roast my acorn squash – after removing the seeds and pulp. I put it in the oven flesh side up – drenched with a combination of brown sugar – molasses – and / or maple syrup – and a dollop of vanilla. For the final touch, I layer the halves with marshmallows – allowing about 10 minutes for the marshmallows to melt across their tops. Prepared this way, the acorn squash tastes like a sweet potato soufflé!
However, acorn squash is also easily zapped in a microwave, sautéed, or even steamed. And, it can be stuffed with any type of meat, chicken, rice, vegetable medleys – or any combination thereof.
Some acorn squash devotees will even dice and puree the squash and make a soup out of it!
Save the seeds – dry them off – coat them with a little oil and garlic salt – and roast them for a great snack!
Self Respecting Home Gardeners Should Be Growing Acorn Squash
Both of my favorite acorn squash varieties come from Burpee.
Table Queen – A 6 inch heirloom with golden yellow flesh that turns orange while in storage. It’s very sweet and nutty. Harvest them about 12 weeks after planting.
Early Acorn Hybrid – The mature squash gets to about 5 inches and is a bush-type hybrid that is sweet, nutty, and has a very smooth texture. They are ripe for picking about 10 weeks after they begin to sprout out of the soil.
Direct Sow The Seeds – Don’t Germinate Them
Skip the standard indoor germination, hardening off, and transplanting since squash seedlings are a bit sensitive when their roots get agitated – and the young plants can “kick the bucket” very easily.
Wait until any danger of a cold frost is long gone in the spring. This is normally sometime after the middle of April in most parts of North America. Since I opt for an early fall harvest, my acorn squash seeds don’t go into the ground until late May or early June.
Make sure the soil has good drainage and gets 6 hours or more of sunshine every day.
Use prudent crop rotation – and don’t plant acorn squash in an area where any squash – winter or summer variety – was planted in the last couple of years.
Make hills every 4 to 6 feet in rows at least 4 feet apart – and add a half dozen acorn squash seeds to each dirt pile. Since I use Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture – half dirt, half Miracle-Gro potting mix or garden soil, spiced up with a handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer – I load some 5 gallon buckets with this concoction and make my hills by dumping the buckets in the spots where I want the hills to be.
Seedlings will begin sprouting out of the ground in a couple of weeks.
Keep the acorn squash hills watered – about an inch per week. My favorite way to do this is with soaker hoses – which keeps the water off the leaves – preventing disease – and sends the water directly to the roots where it needs to be. After I lay out my soaker hoses, I mulch everything to help retain soil moisture and to keep the weeds from attacking my veggies.
Every couple of weeks, I throw a small handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer on each mound.
Don’t pick acorn squash when they are yellow – or light green. Wait until the ribbed skin is a deep, dark green – and the stem is starting to dry out and turn brown on the edges.
If acorn squash is kept in a cool, dry place – like my basement – it’ll be fine for at least 2 or 3 months. It should stay there for a month at least – to allow time for the flesh to darken a bit – from golden yellow to a little on the orange side – which also accentuates and enhances the flavor!
Pests And Diseases
The main antagonizers of acorn squash are the dastardly cucumber beetles, squash bugs, aphids, and whiteflies – not to mention a smattering of other culprits that occasionally join the ranks of squash destroyers.
Companion planting can help keep these evil critters away – using a myriad of certain flowers and herbs. If you find these bugs attacking your beloved squash – and the companion plants aren’t doing their job well enough – then get out some Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer – and, they’ll be long gone – in a New York minute!
There will always be “fungus among us” – where squash plants are concerned. Acorn squash is prone to wilt, powdery mildew, and downy mildew – which will have the leaves looking just as the names suggest – wilty, powdery, or with a downy appearance.
Just give them a healthy dose of Physan 20 or Daconil when the leaves start looking bad – to head off any further plant infestation. If the plant is too far gone, remove the entire plant – including roots – bag it – and put it out on the curb for garbage pickup. Don’t take any chances of those fungus spores floating back into the garden to attack other plants!
A Passing Thought…
I have found that, I can make it rain during a drought.
Every time I thoroughly soak my garden with water, it never ceases to amaze me how soon afterwards it starts to rain!
Looking for comments. I welcome your thoughts or ideas! If you need to get up close and personal, you can email me, too!