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Winter Squash Harvest

October 12, 2013

With the threat of frost a few days ago, I had to quit procrastinating and get my winter squash harvest in.  I happen to be one of those monotone (and monocrop) winter squash growers…winter squash is one our staple, resilience crops and I am not swayed by the pretty colors of all the other squashes available.  I’ve been growing Gill Brothers Sweet Meat for many years, and saving the seed.  It is now nativized (as Salatin is wont to call it) or a landrace (as Anthony Boutard likes to say) and suited to my microclimate.  What grows in balmy PDX or Seattle at almost sea level, has a little bit of trouble here on the wet flanks of the Cascades, cool and wet, and cool summer nights don’t bode all that well for heat seeking crops.

Last load

Last load

I know, boring.  Oh well, no one has ever accused me of being titillating anyway, so if it means I have enough squash to last me until the next harvest, then boring it is.  The last one from 2012 is acting as a doorstop on the hen hoop house.  Now folks, that is a keeper!

Read this Mr Coyote!

Read this Mr Coyote!

May 28, 2013 - Sweet Meat

May 28, 2013 – Sweet Meat

Since late May we’ve been babying a dozen hills of Sweet Meat squash for our winter supply of winter squash.

Sweet Meat squash hill

Sweet Meat squash hill

Utilizing direct seeding I can quickly weed out the weak plants that can’t germinate well in my conditions.  I always plant five seeds per hill and plan to thin to the strongest two plants.  As you can see only four made it, so that weeding out was done for me by Mother Nature, next it’s up to me do the culling.  Ideally I want twenty-four plants to grow out this crop.  That number is kind of pulled out of my…head, my garden is approximately one hundred feet long, so twelve hills and room for the headland works about right, and gives us plenty of winter squash for the pantry.

Squash row

Squash row

Winter squash takes up a lot of space in the garden, I allot four-foot spacing for the hills, and another four-foot row that I leave fallow for sprawling.  Vining squashes are opportunists, and would definitely take up more than the eight feet I allow, so I train the squash back into the row as often as required to keep the vines in their place.  The winter squash is one of our dryland crops (grown without irrigation) so the wide spacing is a must.  If you choose to use irrigation you could get by with much closer spacing of the plants and/or hills.


Usually in August I start peering into the squash jungle and trying to count the squash that look like they are going to ripen properly.  Commonly I can be seen walking up and down each side of the row and talking to myself, on my way to gather the eggs after milking chores.  I’m counting, and hoping to get an idea of what is going on in that jungle, since those tiny little plants planted in May grow to enormous proportions by summer’s end.

We did end up getting some light frosts and ice on water buckets this past week so I was heartened to see I had forty-four squash to haul in.  Forty four big heavy squash!  Ugh!  I used to move them all to a hoop house for curing, then move them to the house a few weeks after that.   What waste of time and labor, now I just bring them to the house and cure them where I am going to store them.  I’m not getting any younger, but I am getting a little smarter.  Hopefully.

To streamline things, I cut each squash from the vine first.  Then to save picking any squash up more than once, I weighed each one as I filled the wheelbarrow.  Since it is all downhill to the house from this garden I surmised I could push more weight than I usually do in the wheelbarrow, since most trips with it are uphill.  I like to break big jobs into small parts (probably the quilter in me) and then it doesn’t seem like such a big job, but several small ones.  It actually (like hiking) was hard to go downhill and hold those loads back.  I almost needed a brichen strap and shafts to hold the darn thing back.


Keeping my Guideline 52 in the back of my mind, I harvested forty-four squash, which would roughly supply me with 44 weeks of squashy goodness.  Now I like winter squash, a lot.  But, not that much, hence the hen-house door stop.  Our total harvest came to 538 pounds, as they cure and dry a bit, they will lose some of that weight, but in the kitchen I’m not really concerned with that.  I just cook the squash up each week, and use what I have, it may be a big 20 pounder or a smallish 9 pounder.

If you have the space, winter squash of all kinds is a high calorie crop that stores with a minimum of processing, just cure and store in a cool, dry place, and can used in all kinds of dishes, sweet or savory.  Since I am saving the seeds and am a little sentimental about Gill Brothers, I chose the Sweet Meat for my go-winter squash.

Will we eat all that squash?  Not likely, more likely some will become gifts (I’ve already gifted two), and what is still here come March will probably be fed out to the hens, house cow, or pigs.  I’ll let you know next March 🙂

28 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2013 2:49 pm

    I grew 27 delicatas and 25 butternut in my backyard garden which, after reading your post, makes me button popping proud. Of course being a party of one I realize next year the word will be moderation. Still, I love that storage beauty and know the walk you walk when counting the babies.

    • October 12, 2013 9:47 pm

      H, that’s quite a haul! You can’t beat a winter squash for feeding you through the winter. I need to start working on a butternut that will ripen reliably outside instead of the hoop house, I love them 🙂

      I thought of you today – I owe you an email…

      • October 13, 2013 7:09 pm

        Hah! Harriet Fasenfest is reading your blog?! I read (and recommended on my blog) A Householder’s Guide to the Universe, which is a great book.

        Maybe she can talk you into writing a book- or at least nudge you into it and help you get it published.

        You probably don’t think what you know is such a big deal because you’ve been doing it forever, but what you know is really important, and you should pass it on. It might even make you some money.

        I would buy your book. And not even vet it first by borrowing it from the library!!

  2. October 12, 2013 3:56 pm

    Can I come visit and buy some????

    • October 12, 2013 9:47 pm

      GPbr, I’m not selling any!

      • goingplacesbr permalink
        October 13, 2013 8:39 am

        This is wildramp and WVFarm2u…just moved west to McMinnville….you said I could visit. Okay? LOL
        I won;t steal or buy any squash, I promise.

  3. Mary permalink
    October 12, 2013 5:46 pm

    Hello .
    Beautiful squash harvest! Do you share your seeds? Or can you tell me a reliable source? Thanks so much!

    • October 12, 2013 9:48 pm

      Mary, I don’t have enough to go around, but you might try Territorial Seeds, Nichols, or Fedco all pretty good sources.

  4. October 12, 2013 8:19 pm

    I am glad you posted this because i tried Sweet Meat for the first time this year with dismal results. I grew them in a Three Sisters arrangement with Painted Mountain corn and Black Coco beans- nothing of that bunch did particularly well and I suspected that the squash and beans did not get enough light. Then when i read that your Sweet Meat went into the ground in late May I was convinced it was a light issue because that’s when I put mine in, and I am west of you in West Linn.

    That said, mine are small- the largest is maybe 6-8 inches across- we’re not hit by frost yet and probably won’t be ’til mid-November. Do you think my tiny squash are worth harvesting and should I leave them there until the first frost warning?

    • October 12, 2013 9:55 pm

      Paula, I’m not a real fan of the 3 sisters method, maybe because I have two sisters…the corn and squash take a huge amount of feed to come to fruition, if you’re set on that you might try delicata, they do pretty well, and aren’t quite so rampant like the Sweet Meat. Delicata will put on more small squash, whereas the Sweet Meat tends to grow two or three big squash per plant. Mine ranged from one or two 9 pounders all the way up to 20 pounders, with most somewhere in between. The garden I grow these in, gets full sun until about 8 pm and is much warmer than our other garden, no shade at all really.

      I would leave them as long as you can, and until the spot on the bottom is white and the flesh is gray, not green.

  5. Lisa permalink
    October 12, 2013 8:51 pm

    What do you find is the best storing conditions as to temperature and humidity?
    We tore down the old house and built a new house. Used to store squash in the old unheated utility room with great success, but are having problems with storing since the old house is gone. Too humid in the unheated greenhouse, or the new garage. One year we grew about 1000 lbs of winter squash, many trips with the front loader. If I could only grow one type of winter squash, it would be sweetmeat. Also, if you want some Astiana tomato seeds, I have saved some, grown this variety out the past two years. Friends show up with tomatoes they love, and ask me to grow them out for them, so we save seed. True vine ripened tomatoes are always better than the underipe heirlooms you find at the store, and sometimes at the farmers market. Of course we have friends that only show up during tomato season, or maybe truffle season (now through about May or June)

    • October 12, 2013 10:02 pm

      Lisa, old houses are great for food storage that is for sure 🙂 I store these in an unheated bedroom upstairs, I’m guessing 50/50 temp and humidity and sometimes colder probably depending on the weather. Our basement is too humid, and the greenhouse freezes so that’s out.

      I just got some Astiana seeds in the mail from a friend, you must have seen my request on the Homegrown forum. Another grower picked some up and shared the seeds. I can’t wait until next year to try them! Thanks though 🙂

  6. October 12, 2013 9:32 pm

    I’m counting on you for these squash being okay for a long time 🙂 We grew them for the first time this year and they did pretty well. We had to harvest them a little earlier but they are still a good size – the product probably of our long hot days. I’m hoping they are still eatable later than March though as we have little other winter veg unless it is in the freezer, due to the fact our carrots didn’t germinate in the dry conditions and we only have a short row of beets.

    • October 12, 2013 10:03 pm

      Joanna, they keep a full year for me, I just get tired of eating them once the springs greens come on I’ve had my fill of squash for the year!

  7. Shirley Wikstrom permalink
    October 13, 2013 8:41 am

    How many squash do you save the seeds from to plant next year? How do you decide which ones to save seeds from?

    • October 13, 2013 10:27 am

      Shirley, I usually save the seeds out of one or two that taste the best, keep well etc., and if find better tasting ones later I save the seeds from those also. Any that show signs of spoilage early aren’t candidates so no matter how good they taste I’m selecting for keeping qualities too. That’s the beauty of farmstead raised seed, if a grower is saving seeds for commercial trade (even a smallish grower) the squash get harvested and the seeds promptly removed, it works because it has to, but you can get some undesirable traits that way. Kind of like selecting dairy cows for high production, as the milk productivity goes up, other things get cast aside. My gene pool is large because I am growing a large quantity of squash instead of just a few plants.

  8. Carrie permalink
    October 13, 2013 11:03 am

    Like Joanna this is the first year of growing Sweet Meat (seeds from same UK source). Having decided to pre-germinate (slugs) I was late in putting the hardened-off plants into the ground, so in a way they had a double check. Also I planted closer together. Last Friday, I harvested four squash from three plants; the largest is 3.8Kg (about 8.5lbs) to the smallest at about 1Kg. I feel a need to perfect my technique! More room and improved soil maybe? “…until the spot on the bottom is white and the flesh is gray, not green.” That’s useful info – my smallest two fail on the grey criteria – their flesh is still distinctly green in parts.

    The other trial, the pumpkin nuts, produced one huge squash and I imagine I have to process the seeds out of it soon?

    • October 13, 2013 2:43 pm

      Carrie, I don’t actually think you can overfeed these squash, they are heavy feeders, and the runners put down more roots, so they get more nutrients that way but that also means they like lots of space to ramble. A friend on mine lets hers go along a fence in her small garden so they aren’t really in the way but they have room to run a bit.

      Yes, harvest those seeds right away, rinse and then dry, the rinsing is important or that film gets bitter when the seeds are dry.

  9. October 13, 2013 7:15 pm

    Hi Nita…me again…did you mean the skin is gray not green, not the flesh? How could you tell it was the flesh if you didn’t open it up?

    • October 13, 2013 9:31 pm

      Yes, skin is gray, it starts out light green and then morphs into gray, the white spot is the telling mark, like the orange spot on an acorn squash. It will still be edible if it’s not entirely ripe, green skin and lighter yellowish flesh instead of orange – takes some doctoring (maple syrup and butter) but not quite as good really ripe but still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Gawd! Did I just type that, I sound like my mom!

  10. October 14, 2013 3:49 am

    I don’t know how you restrained yourself and only posted a couple pictures of those squash. They are so PRETTY. Tell me, though, are you not tortured by the infamous Squash Borer Moth and/or squash bugs? I am and I’ve just about decided that I can’t raise squash. Just about. (Any hints?) But next year I’ll try again. You’ve inspired me. I’d love to have a pile of those squash to haul down to my pantry. Just lovely.

    • October 14, 2013 5:20 am

      Amy, luckily we aren’t bothered by those pests. I have no idea what to do about them, I have heard so many remedies and I’m not sure what works or not. 😦

      • Jack permalink
        October 14, 2013 4:33 pm

        Hi MOH Im not into squash right now , just wanted to tell you Im trying to roast some tomatoes this evening . Hope they taste as good as they smell . Thankyou

  11. October 16, 2013 12:35 pm

    I’ll have to give Sweet Meat a try. We had no winter squash this year and only 4 tiny New England Pie Pumpkins. First time I’ve had no winter squash and I don’t know if it was the weather or simply not enough bees. That squash looks perfect for a family of four. Wish I had some!

    • October 16, 2013 3:29 pm

      Joyce, what a bummer 😦 We had great squash year this time for once, an early start and nice and warm!

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