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GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 16, 2016

You know fall has arrived when tree leaves start turning red and a variety of winter squash, including pumpkins, start showing up everywhere along with pumpkin lattes and a plethora of pumpkin culinary delights. What do you know about these “squashy” signs of autumn?

Do you know the definition of “squash” or, more exactly, the definition of a winter squash? If you check the dictionary, a squash is a member of the gourd family that has edible flesh. A winter squash is squash that is harvested when it is mature with fully developed seeds. When mature, a winter squash has a tough skin or rind that enables it to be stored for a month or more, depending on the type of squash and storage conditions.

From the botanist’s perspective, squash are members the cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) family. This family is native to South and Central American and may have been cultivated in these regions long before corn became a cultivated crop.

Squash have many cousins in their family including decorative gourds, utility gourds, cucumbers, melons, and summer squash. There are several different species of winter squash. The Cucurbita pepo species includes spaghetti, delicata, and acorn squash. Because most C. pepo squash do not have thick skin, they are not suitable for long term storage.

Winter squash with harder skins that store well for up to several months are the Cucurbita maxima species that includes hubbard, marblehead, buttercup, banana, golden nugget, Turk’s turban, and kabocha squash. Other species that store well are Cucurbita moschata that includes butternut, ponca, and waltham squash and Cucurbita argrosperma that includes cushaw squash.

All pumpkins are winter squash, but the term “pumpkin” is an inexact, nontechnical term that refers to a roundish winter squash with orange-ish smooth ribbed skin. However, not all winter squash that are called pumpkins are round and orange. Pumpkins vary in appearance, characteristics, and use.

Many pumpkin pies you eat come from pumpkin cultivars of C. moshata that have tan colored skin and an elongated fruit shape. This type of pumpkin is used to make canned pumpkin used in making pies and baked goods.

Gardeners trying to grow gargantuan pumpkins for giant pumpkin contests usually plant cultivars of C. maxima. These have creamy white to somewhat orange or yellow skin and a spongy stem. These pumpkins can weigh in at 100 pounds or more. Selections of the cultivar Atlantic Giant produces most of the winners of pumpkin contests.

The Cinderella pumpkin, also known as Rouge Vif D’Etampes, is an heirloom variety that has grown in popularity in recent years. It has flattened fruit with deeply furrowed orange-red skin. It is often used for decorating, but its flesh is supposedly good cooked or in pie. Other heirloom pumpkins on the market are the Jarrahdale pumpkin with blue green deeply ribbed skin and the warty Galeux d’Eysines with salmon colored skin. Both are a departure from the typical orange pumpkin and are reported to have tasty sweet flesh.

When it comes to carving look to the cultivars and hybrids of C. pepo with orange skin and a deeply furrowed woody stems. Also, most of the cultivars with “naked” seeds for eating come from C. pepo, as well as do the miniature pumpkins used for fall decorating. In addition, there are some cultivars of C. Pepo used for making fresh pumpkin pies.

This would be a good weekend to go get your winter squash and pumpkins, if you did not grow them yourself. I want to get one of the carving pumpkins with white skin, how about you?


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published- JUNE 27, 2014


Cucurbits (squash, cukes, and melons) are popular garden veggies. That is probably why questions about cucurbits are second only to tomatoes when it comes to problems that gardeners encounter in their vegetable gardens.

A common question is, ‘why aren’t I getting any squash even though my plants have a lot of flowers?’ To understand the answer it is important to know that cucurbits have separate male and female flowers. Only the female flowers can produce fruit and only the males produce the pollen needed for pollination and fruit development. The cucurbits depend primarily on honeybees to transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the females.

In order for pollination to occur, both male and female flowers must be open at the same time. Typically, cucurbits produce all male flowers at the start of flowering and a little later also produce female flowers. Conversely, plants of hybrid cucurbits generally produce female flowers first and male flowers second. However, before long both sexes of flowers are open at the same time and then the bees must go to work.

Once male and female flowers are blooming at the same time, there are several reasons that fruit still may not develop. Lack of honeybees or low bee activity due to hot weather, wind, or rain can hamper successful pollination.

If the honeybee population is low or nonexistent, you can assume the duties of a honeybee. Do this by picking a freshly open male flower (they have pollen in the center) and removing the petals, leaving the center portion (anthers) with the pollen. Insert this into the center of a newly open female flower (has a baby fruit at its base). Gently move the anthers around to transfer the pollen from the anthers to the center structure (stigma) in the female flower.

Another common cucurbit question comes from area gardeners when they discover small to large dry whitish or tan spots on the leaves of squash, melons, or cukes. It is typically most severe on the plant’s larger, older leaves and not evident on the youngest leaves. It looks like a disease problem, but it usually is wind injury. This occurs when the winds buffets the leaves about, causing the spiny surfaces of the leaves and stems to wound themselves. Badly injured leaves will be very brittle and often tear after additional windy weather. Placing a garden in a less exposed spot or shielding the plants from wind in some way might help.

Area gardeners also wonder why the leaves of squash wilt during the day and then perk back up in the evening. Is it a wilt disease or squash bugs? No, this daytime wilting indicates that the leaves are not being supplied with enough water to keep up with the amount of water they are losing through their leaves during the heat of the day. This ‘lack’ of water may be caused by too little soil moisture, a poorly developed root system, root rot from too much water or poor drainage, or root damage from enthusiastic weed cultivation. Consider the situation and try to remedy it for a healthier, more productive plant that does not wilt during the day.

Other common problems to look for on cucurbits are squash bugs and powdery mildew. You can find out more about these on the WSU website called ‘Hortsense,’ short for Horticultural Sense. You can find Hortsense at Start looking for squash bugs now.

Published: 6/27/2014 11:40 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

My vegetable garden is small, so the only veggies I grow are yellow crookneck squash and tomatoes, my two favorites. I rely on the local Farmer’s Markets for other fresh vegetables during the season. The reason for growing garden tomatoes is obvious to anyone who relishes fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes… taste. I grow crookneck squash for the same reason. Most of the summer squash I find at the grocery store or the markets is too big and not very tasty.

All of us know the tales of gardeners who try to unload their gigantic zucchinis on unsuspecting neighbors or those who make endless loaves of zucchini bread so they don’t waste their garden produce. Many folks don’t like any type of summer squash. That’s probably because all the squash they’ve ever tasted has been from mature and over-mature fruit.

Summer squash should be harvested when they’re small and immature. That’s when their flavor is the best. Harvest zucchini, cocozelle, yellow straight-neck, and crookneck squash when they’re quite small, about 6 inches in length and less than 2 inches in diameter. Patty pan and scallop squash are best when they’re about the size of a silver dollar up to 3 inches in diameter.

During summer heat, summer squash develop very quickly and can be ready to pick within several days of flowering, so frequent checking and harvesting is a must. To harvest summer squash, wear garden gloves and use garden shears or a sharp knife to cut the stems. The skin is very tender, so handle them carefully to avoid scratching it. For the best flavor, prepare and eat the squash right away. (I like them best grilled on the barbecue.)

If you harvest more than you can use immediately, wash the fruit with clean water, let dry, and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Use them within two to three days.

Knowing when to harvest tomatoes for best flavor may not be as easy as you might think. Once a tomato blossom sets fruit, the tomato starts to develop. It will reach full size and maturity after a month or more. Once fully mature, the dark green fruit changes to a light green. After that it begins to soften and ripen, developing the color for that variety, such as red, yellow, or purple.

The ripening process depends on temperature and ethylene, a natural growth regulator produced by the plant. The best temperatures for tomato ripening are between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The ripening process is slower when temperatures are lower than 68 degrees. When temperatures are above 90 degrees, the softening process speeds up, but fruit color development slows down and may even stop when the weather is very hot.

Sweet vine ripened tomatoes are the goal of every gardener, but during hot weather it may be prudent to regularly harvest mature tomatoes that are beginning to show some color and ripen the fruit indoors at temperatures of 72 to 75 degrees. Left outdoors to ripen in hot weather, they may fail to develop good flavor and color. Tomatoes don’t need sunlight to ripen.

Harvesting more squash or tomatoes than your family can use? Don’t forget that local food banks welcome your extra produce. However, save the green zucchini monsters that have hidden from you and recycle them in the compost pile.

Published: 8/13/2011 2:43 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

We certainly all know it’s traditional to have berry pie after our Thanksgiving dinner. Wait a minute… berry pie? I bet you thought it was pumpkin pie. Well, you’re right and I’m right. That’s because botanically, pumpkins are classified as berries. They have a fruit that develops from a single pistil (the female part of the flower) and they have seeds that aren’t enclosed in a hard outer covering or “stone. ”

Pumpkins and the rest of the squash family are “native American” plants having originated in South, Central, or North America. They ‘ve been grown as crops for thousands of years. Long before Europeans discovered the existence of the New World, native populations were cultivating squash as one of their main food crops. In fact, the name “squash” comes from an Algonquin word “asku’tasquash” meaning “food eaten raw.”

There are a little over 25 species of plants in the squash and melon family, known as the Cucurbita family. A number of cultivars within four of these 25 species are commonly referred to as winter squash. The designation of “winter squash” generally means the fruit has a hard skin, dry flesh, and fairly long storage life. Many winter squash have orange flesh that is traditionally prepared and eaten during the fall and winter months. “Summer squash” have tender skin, moist flesh, and don’t store well. They’re best eaten when very young and fresh. “Pumpkins” are generally winter squash that are round and orange.

Unless you’re a botanist, the following botanical discussion may seem a bit boring and pedantic, but it’s important to gardeners, squash growers, and pumpkin fanciers… so please bear with me. Here’s a brief look at each of the four main types of winter squash.

Cucurbita maxima: Within this species you find the traditional rather large winter squash… Hubbard,, banana, buttercup and the colorful turban squash, as well as “mammoth pumpkins.” The species is characterized by rounded, mostly unlobed leaves; fleshy round stems; and a corky peduncle (that’s where the stem is attached to the fruit).

Cucurbita pepo: This species includes summer squash so familiar to home gardeners, including zucchini, yellow straight neck, yellow crookneck, spaghetti, cocozzelle, and patty pan (scallop) squash. It also includes the jack-o’-lantern pumpkins; sugar pumpkins; most of the bumpy, warty gourds used for autumn decorations; acorn squash; and the more recent winter squash introductions ‘Sweet Dumpling,’ ‘Delicata,’ and ‘Tatume’. This species has hard, 5-angled prickly stems; a strongly flared peduncle; and bristly, lobed leaves.

Cucurbita moschata: You can tell this group by their hard, angular stems with soft hairs and their white-marked, shallowly lobed, hairy leaves. The cultivars included in this group are butternut, some cushaws, Cuban, calabaza,, and ‘Tahitian’ squash.

Cucurbita mixta: The angled stems of this group are hard with soft hairs. The peduncle is five angled, not flared, but with a corky swelling at the base. The shallowly lobed leaves are smooth or just a little hairy and usually have white blotchy markings. This group includes most cushaws, sweet potato squashes, and potato pumpkins.

So now that we’ve talked about different types of winter squash….what’s the difference between a pumpkin and a winter squash? The designation of “pumpkin” is not a botanical term. Pumpkin purists insist that true pumpkins are the Cucurbita pepo pumpkins, such as ‘Connecticut Field,’ ‘Jack-o’-Lantern,’ ‘Autumn Gold,’ ‘Big Tom,’ or ‘Early Sweet Sugar.’ They have bright orange skin and the characteristic hard woody, furrowed stems of C. pepo.

Others less concerned with semantics consider any winter squash that’s sort of orange and somewhat round to be a pumpkin. Such is the case with most local, state and national big pumpkin championships. The gargantuan pumpkin winners are always cultivars of Cucurbita maxima. The prominent mammoth cultivars include ‘Atlantic Giant,’ ‘Big Max,’ ‘Big Moon,’ ‘Hungarian Mammoth’ and ‘Show King.’ The C. maxima “pumpkins” are generally more yellow than orange and most end up a bit more lopsided than round because of their great size.

This year’s winner of the “Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off” was a C. maxima ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin weighing in at 1,229 pounds. It measured 13 feet, seven inches around! The winner’s grower is Joel Holland, a retired Washington state firefighter from Puyallup, Washington. Holland received a prize of $6,145…. $5 for every pound of pumpkin.

When Thanksgiving rolls around in a couple of weeks, many of us will finish a great dinner with the conventional piece of pumpkin pie, but we probably won’t be eating C. pepo or C. maxima pumpkins. Instead, we’ll be eating Cucurbita moschata processing pumpkins, such as ‘Dickinson Field,’ ‘Buckskin,’ or ‘Kentucky Field.’ These pumpkins tend to look more like tan-colored watermelons. They have dark orange, fine-textured, dry flesh. If you’ve ever tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch, the results may have been disappointing. The flesh of the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkins is of poor quality for baking and eating.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the littlest pumpkins marketed in recent years for fall decorating. These little pumpkins are members of Cucurbita pepo. They were developed in Asia and are bright orange, somewhat squat in shape with deep sutures. Most American consumers consider them a gourd. They’re quite a bit like gourds in that they are decorative, small, and last a long time. However, unlike gourds they’re said to be good baked, stir-fried, or pureed. Cultivars include ‘Jack-B-Little,’ ‘Jack-B-Quick,’ and ‘Munchkin.’

This entire squashy pumpkin discussion may cause you to ask “so what?” Pumpkin growers and gardeners who save their seed need to know the difference between the different species. That’s because different cultivars of squash within the same species can cross pollinate. The seed resulting from such a cross often results in some strange looking squash that lack the desirable appearance or characteristics of either parent. Big pumpkin growers typically save the seed of their largest specimens in the attempt to groom bigger and better offspring for the next year. If their giant pumpkins cross with some other cultivar of the same species, it can spell disaster.

If nothing else, you can have an interesting discussion of pumpkins and squash when Thanksgiving dinner is over. Enjoy your berry (pumpkin) pie!

Published: 11/13/2004 2:13 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I love winter squash. Not long ago I visited the Pasco farmer’s market and purchased a large Blue Hubbard squash. I exclaimed to the vendor that it would provide my family with squash for a number of meals. She was pleased that I knew it was for eating, since a lot of folks buy variously shaped and colorful winter squash only for decorating at this time of year. We both agreed they are missing out on the culinary delight of winter squash. So… it seems some remedial squash education is needed.

How is a winter squash different from a summer squash? Summer squash are squash that taste best when eaten immature and before the seeds harden. Winter squash are harvested when the fruit are mature. The skin or ‘rind’ is tough and the seeds are fully formed and hard. Most winter squash can be stored for relatively long periods of time, where summer squash are very perishable and don’t keep well.

Summer squash and winter squash are both members of the Cucurbit family that also includes melons and cucumbers. There are three main species of squash. Summer squash belong to one species, Cucurbita pepo. Most winter squash types and varieties fit into three different species, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita pepo.

With an influx of winter squash varieties from around the world, it may be surprising for some to learn that squash is a native to North and South America. Cucurbita maxima has its origins in northern Argentina. Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita pepo are native to Central America and Mexico. Native peoples spread both of these species throughout North America.


s the difference between a pumpkin and a winter squash? There is no real botanical definition for a pumpkin. It’s really more of a common name for a roundish orange colored winter squash. The word ‘pumpkin’ is derived from the French word, pampion, meaning sun-baked squash. What I think of as true pumpkins are the bright orange winter squash used for making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. These are varieties of Cucurbita pepo, such as Connecticut Field, Jack-o-Lantern, and Sugar Treat. The tan-skinned squash used for making canned pumpkin are varieties of Cucurbita moschata, such as Kentucky Field and Dickinson Field, and are sometimes referred to as sugar or pie pumpkins. The giant pumpkins grown for bragging rites are Cucurbita maxima varieties, such as Atlantic Giant, Big Moon, and Big Max. The miniature pumpkins most often used for decoration (but also edible) are Cucurbita pepo varieties, such as Jack-Be-Little and Jack-Be-Quick.

There is a vast selection of winter squash available for the palate of gardeners and squash connoisseurs. Buy your winter squash now and store it into the winter months. You might even want to grow some in your garden next year. Some of the most common types available are:

Acorn- smooth, golden to light orange flesh, traditionally with dark green skin, but there are now ones with creamy white, very dark green, bright orange, and golden skin.

Butternut – well known to almost everyone, this pear-shaped squash has a hard tan rind and sweet flesh.

Delicata – also known as ‘Sweet Potato Squash,’ is becoming very popular because of its smaller size and its sweet flesh. It’s cylindrical with lengthwise cream and dark green stripes.
Honey Boat, Sugar Loaf, and Sweet Dumpling are differently shaped or colored types of Delicata squash.

Buttercup – a dark green rounded squash with thin gray stripes and a protruding blossom end. The flesh is sweet, nutty flavored, and fine textured.

Hubbard – a large oblong, football-shaped squash with bumpy, gray blue or green skin. Smaller varieties are also available. The finely grained flesh is tasty, but not sweet.

Banana – a large oblong-shaped tan to cream-colored squash with yellow-orange, dry, finely textured sweet flesh.

Sweet Meat – round, somewhat flattened squash with blue-gray skin and deep orange, very sweet, finely-grained dry flesh.

Kabocha – also known as Japanese squash and Sweet Mama. It has a rounded, flattened green fruit with lighter stripes, similar in appearance to Buttercup squash. Flesh is very sweet, light, and dry.

Turban – used by many for decoration, this colorful, turban-shaped squash can be eaten. The flesh is golden-yellow and similar to buttercup flesh.

Published: 10/13/2007 2:33 PM



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