I have always been mildly obsessed with growing pumpkins and squash, mainly due to their extraordinary shapes and colours. Winter squash are the tough-skinned varieties that are harvested in autumn and can be stored through the winter (as opposed to summer squash like courgettes and patty-pans). They come in a handful of varieties - from the striped and mottled 'Festival' to the classic 'Butternut'. They have firm, nutty flesh that can be roasted, puréed or made into soup, and are invaluable for the winter store cupboard.
I have tried growing butternut squash, but in the last few years it has been a disaster as it needs a long, hot summer to mature properly. Instead, I would recommend 'Crown Prince', which has cropped extremely well for me. Producing large, grey-blue fruits, this variety has a tough skin, so it keeps for ages, and its orange flesh has a sweet, nutty flavour similar to butternut. With smaller fruits, the dark orange 'Potimarron' is also good. It's an old French variety and its name derives from potiron (pumpkin) and marron (chestnut). If you are determined to keep trying butternut, 'Waltham' from Real Seeds might be worth a go, as it is bred to crop earlier - giving the fruits more of a chance to ripen.
How to grow
Growing winter squash is easy, but you need to have enough space to let each plant spread out. Or you could grow some smaller-fruiting varieties up a trellis or over an arch. Plant seeds individually indoors and grow in 9cm pots until all danger of frost has passed. Plant out into a soil that has been improved with compost or manure, and ensure that the squash are watered regularly. Feed every couple of weeks with a high potash feed when the fruits have started to appear, and pinch out the growing shoots once four or five fruits have set to encourage the plant to put more energy into the fruit rather than the foliage. Ideally, the squash should ripen on the vine, so leave them to mature on the plant. Once harvested, they should be stored in a cool, frost-free place.
Where to buy
A wide variety of winter squash and pumpkins can be found at organicseed.co.za
Feature image: Pexels
This originally appeared on House & Garden UK | Clare Foster