Harvesting Your Winter Squash Seeds in the Fall
Winter squash, or "snow squashes", are a bit different from their summer cousins. In winter, plants go into dormancy. Some even go into shock, because it's harder for them to absorb water when they're dormant. When plants come out of dormancy in the fall, they won't have nearly as much energy to burn up their sugars, so they won't produce as many sugars during their dormant season.
Winter squash, and all other cucurbits, are also cross-bred. This means they both have both different male and different female flowers. They also depend on bugs to pollinate them, like all the other members of their family. However, since they're all the same species, they can cross-breed within their own species.
So what can you expect from your plants next year? First, you should know that the flowers don't always bloom the way you think they will. Sometimes they'll appear more compact and deformed than usual, other times they may grow more openly. The color might change, too; sometimes they'll turn white or yellow. You should be especially aware of the soil temperature at the time you try to replant your seeds. If your seeds didn't get an adequate start to grow in the fall, they'll likely die during the final growing season if you put them in the ground during the final freeze period.
The best time to plant winter squash seeds is in late spring or early summer. When plants are in their dormant stage, you'll have the greatest chance to get them established before the frost, if you're able to get them out of their pots. When you plant them this way, remember that you'll have to keep your garden relatively clean. This means you'll want to clear away any weeds and dead leaves before putting new plants in.
To get started, you should know the difference between summer squash and winter squashes. Although both varieties have tubular seeds, the leaves on the lower end of a summer plant grow upright and do not have visible veins on their undersides. On the other hand, winter Squash seeds develop veins on their undersides. Be careful with pumpkin seeds, which grow upright and don't have visible veins. Both types of summer and winter squash are available throughout the United States, although it's best to buy in late winter or early spring, when the soil is at its coldest.
If you have a large garden, seed companies often carry a variety of these varieties, so it shouldn't be difficult to find some that you like. Start by checking the local seed store, because their catalogs offer a good selection of potential seeds that will germinate. Keep in mind that in order for seeds to germinate, they must receive adequate moisture, so it may be necessary to water your seed plants after you buy them. Keep in mind also that some varieties of seed need to have a cold season before they're ready for planting.
After you purchase your seeds, keep them dry until you're ready to plant them. Most seed companies recommend that you transplant seeds directly into their planting trays, but if yours aren't directly packed, you can place them in an airtight container. Moisture will help the seeds start to grow soon after you transplant them. Plant seeds about six inches deep, spreading them out uniformly on the soil. Keep the plants fairly dry during the growing season indoors, and once the growing season is over, transplant them outdoors into a warm, sunny location.
For those who are growing their seeds indoors, you'll likely find that they taste sweeter with some added seasonings. Seasoning the seeds is a simple process that involves adding different spices to the seeds or planting sweet potatoes, squash, or sweet peas around the perimeter of the seeds. All of the seeds should be planted at the same depth. If you're using sweet potatoes, you can either mash them into a pulp, or cut them into pieces and add them to a saucepan filled with water. Add about two cups of water to the pan, bring to a boil, and cover for about thirty minutes.
One final way to season your Winter Squash Seedlings is with a delicate spiced olive oil. This mixture can be used directly on the seeds, in the seed packet, or mixed into the soil when the seeds are ready to transplant. Seasoning the olive oil comes after you remove the seed from its packaging. Drying the leaves and stems in a salad spinner is the best way to dry the olive oil. You simply place the leaves upside down into the drier, turn them over, and allow to air dry.
The timing for when you harvest your Winter Squash Seeds will depend on when you purchased them. If you bought your seeds in the late summer, harvesting time should be about six weeks after the last frost. In early fall, harvest time should be about two weeks before the first frost. Harvest time in the spring will depend on whether you live in a climate with short sunlight hours.