How to tell the difference between summer and winter squashes

ange2006July 12, 2013

I have a lot of volunteer squashes in my garden. I have no idea what they are. The shapes and color of the babies do not look like something I've purchased or grown before. How would I know when to harvest them? Summer squashes are harvested young and winter squashes are harvested when they are mature, right?

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Any squash can be eaten very young. Some will taste better than others.

Any squash can be grown to maturity. Even more so, some will taste better than others and store better than others.

From what you say, your squash are probably of mixed parentage. Even if they weren't, hybrid varieties aren't going to breed true. So even if you know what the parents were, the offspring won't be guaranteed to be anywhere close to the same.

So, do you want summer squash or winter squash? You can only use trial and error.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:44PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I do not know about squashes but I am sure somebody can tell. I can tell, for example difference between, cuke, squash and melon from the shape of their leaves.

But in order to get help, try posting a picture.
good luck.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:47PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

If you are sure they are squash volunteers then as ltilton mentioned you likely will never know the exact name of them - they won't have one - as they will be hybrid throwbacks. Most are hybrids to begin with and then squash are notorious for cross-pollination too and that only makes them crossed children of crossed parents. :)

Sure we might be able to tell if it is a cuke or a melon rather than a squash but that isn't what you asked and we still can't give you a variety name.

From pics of the fruit itself we can make a guess as to winter or summer type but the odds would still be 50:50 at best.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 11:45PM
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Here's a photo of one of them. The only bell-shaped squash I had last year was the butternut. Would this grow up to be a tan skin butternut? When is a good time to let the squash mature and save some seeds?

I have another one that has the same shape squash but has variegated leaves.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 8:45PM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

That certainly has a butternut shape but the color is a little funky (interesting though). The mature color isn't going to be like a normal tan butternut.

To save the seeds from it you need to let it get completely mature which means leave it alone until the vine starts to die in the fall. When I save seeds from my pumpkins, once I pick them from the dead (or nearly dead vines) I'll wait until at least December to harvest the seeds. I figure the longer I wait to harvest the seeds the better.


Here is a link that might be useful: Seed Saving

This post was edited by theforgottenone1013 on Sat, Jul 13, 13 at 21:29

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 9:23PM
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Right now the skin is tender like a zucchini. I think I'll eat this one early and wait until the end of the season to save one for seeds.

What happens when you cross a summer squash with a winter squash? Or, a melon with a summer squash?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 9:45PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

What happens when you cross a summer squash with a winter squash? Or, a melon with a summer squash?

You get very weird things. Sort of like this which has the shape of a butternut and some of the coloring of cocozelle zucchini with a little spaghetti squash coloring thrown in maybe. Heaven only knows what it will taste like or if it will even be edible or only spittable.

Assuming you understand the differences between a hybrid and an open-pollinated fruit and the effects that cross-pollination has on the seeds be they hybrid or open-pollinated, why would you want to save seeds from these? It is your choice of course but I'd consider them compost pile material and would rather use the garden space for growing things I know will be edible when harvested..

The odds are that they will have crossed yet again and will only deteriorate further if you save seeds.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 11:15PM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

Dave makes a good point. If the squash tastes good or if you just want to grow it for decorative purposes and you want to save the seeds from it, then you need to take special precautions to prevent more cross pollination from happening. And by that I mean you have to hand pollinate them.

Take a male flower from the plant you want to save seeds from and pollinate a female flower from the same plant with it. You have to be sure that the female flower wasn't already pollinated and after you do the pollinating you need to tie the blossom closed to prevent it from being pollinated with other pollen. Be sure to mark the squash in some way (like loosely tying a piece of string around the stem so as not to girdle it) so that you know which ones are pure. Even after doing this, it could take years to stabilize the traits that you want.

The pumpkins I mentioned in my previous comment are the only type of squash I grow which means I don't have to worry about cross pollination. So the thought of even more crosses happening didn't cross my mind (pun intended).

And a melon and squash can't cross.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:31AM
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Got it. I'll save seeds only if it tastes good. I understand how to keep it pure. Thank you for all your comments.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 1:25AM
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Just wondering, did you ever eat this squash? How'd it taste? I just harvested a volunteer squash that looks EXACTLY like this one, but haven't cooked it up yet.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 10:43PM
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This particular one I harvested early (when it's still green) and cooked it like a zucchini - thin slices, sauteed. I like it better than zucchini because it's sweeter. I have also harvested one that had just started to turn tan. It's more like a butternut and at that time the seeds and skin were still edible. I just cook another one that the stem has started to turn brown. I guess it's a butternut squash after all. I saved the seeds. Can't wait to see what comes out next year because it's being grown with another type of squash next to it.

I found out one thing: the stem that holds the squash is SO strong. I tried to pull it off the vine and broke the vine instead. (I let it climb the chain link fence.) I could barely cut it off with my shears.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 1:10AM
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