Acorn Squash Introduction
Acorn squash, aka Table Queen, is a variety of the Winter Squash and is a very welcomed addition to many gardeners’ meal selection. The squash produces dark green fruits that are shaped like an acorn, hence the name.
The variety of winter squash does not mean it is grown in the winter. Its ability to survive throughout the winter before the invention of refrigeration has led to it being called winter squash.
Acorn squash have a very thick skin unlike its cousin the summer squash whose very thin skin would not allow it to last through the winter.
So what makes squash such a popular dish? Well, squash is a healthy, low-calorie, no-fat food that is high in beta-carotene. In addition to that, it is also high in fiber and a good source of vitamin A and C, and minerals such as phosphorus and potassium.
Most people prefer acorn squashed cooked, but it is gaining popularity as a raw vegetable.
Acorn Squash Facts
- Days to germination: 7 to 12 days
- Days to harvest: 80 to 100 days
- Light requirements: Full sun
- Water requirements: Regular watering
- Soil: Loose, fertile and well-draining soil
- Container: Only in very large pots, but definitely suitable
Starting from Seed
The nice thing about growing acorn squash from seed is you do not have to wait for the outside growing season. You can start planting your seeds indoors during the off months and transplant them outside when the soil is warm enough and there is no chance of frost..
If the plan is to start growing the acorn squash inside, you will need to start approximately. 3 to 4 weeks before you think the last frost will occur. If you start sooner than the 4 weeks, the squash seedling will probably outgrow the small seed trays.
Acorn squash seedlings are fidgety little buggers and they do not like to have their roots disturbed once they start growing, which basically means they are not over fond of being transplanted. If To avoid having to trasnplant, you may want to consider using a larger pot that is at least 3 inches across. You only need to place the seeds about an inch into the soil and it is important to keep the pots in a warm place until the seeds sprout.
Sowing 3 seeds per pot is a good idea and then thin the healthiest one to transplant, if transplanting is the plan.
If the plan is to bypass the indoors and just plant outside, there are few things you will need to take into consideration.
Acorn squash grows best when the temperature of the soil remains over 65 degrees F. (18 degrees C).
Also, for best results, make sure the soil has been tilled to about 8 inches. This gives the roots the room they need to grow properly.
It is possible to get 2 crops per year of your squash, but to do so you must plant at least 12 weeks before you think the first frost will arrive in the fall.
But also remember you should wait in the spring for 2 weeks after the frost has left the ground and the soil temperature is up.
Acorn Squash are one of the smaller varieties of squash allowing to plant in a container that is not too large. Your best bet would be choosing a container around 5 gallons in size (pot sizes guide).
These containers can be bought at any garden store.
So you did decide to start the planting indoors and it is now time to get the squash outside. Make sure you wait at least 2 weeks after the last frost and the soil has warmed up to at least 65 degrees F.
Acorn Squash is not the littlest of plants, so you will need to leave a fair bit of space between each one when planting. A good recommendation would be a 3 foot diameter around each plant. So if you have a small garden, you will not be able to plant very many.
Acorn Squash does not have to start indoors, especially in areas where the soil never sees frost or falls below 65 degrees F. But for those areas that do not meet the criteria above, it might not be a bad idea to start indoors to maximize your growing season. Check above under indoor planting for details.
As mentioned above, try and keep a 3 foot diameter around each squash plant. These types of squash are vine growers, with large leaves that will shade the soil below them. They will also need a fair bit of sun and most soil, so look for a place in your garden that has these qualities.
The seeds should be sowed about an inch below the surface and make sure to give them a very good watering once planted. The soil should only be moist not soaked, do not want to drown the little guys.
To get started, take your hoe and build up a mound that is smoothed flat on the top and approximately 8 and 15” across. To make sure that your seeds have a healthy home to grow, make sure your soil is either filled with compose or you have add fertilizer for your garden such as Miracle Grows.
If you are monitoring your pH leve it should be between 5.5 and 6.8. Be careful on how much fertilizer you use, you do not want to burn your plants.
Acorn Squash love to eat as they grow so make sure you keep the soil rich with compost or a good all purpose fertilizer.
There will be a period of time after planting that you will need to keep the mound well weeded and the soil moist until the large leaves of the squash plant are able to grow and shade the ground. Once that happens, maintenance becomes fairly easy.
As your squash is growing wit will be important to protect them from the moist soil. One suggestion is to take a coffee can lid, or any lid for that matter, and place them under the growing squash.
If you planted multiple seeds in each mound and the seeds have started to grow, thin out the weaker growths and leave yourself 2 or 3 of the strongest.
Acorn Squash Bugs and Diseases
Like any plant or vegetables, the acorn squash can be susceptible to disease or rot. The best thing you can do is be proactive. Mildew can form on the leaves if the water is allowed to pool there, so try and not use a lawn sprinkler to water your squash.
To avoid the rot place something between the soil and the fruit, like a coffee lid (mentioned above).
Rotating your crops is a big help in keeping the insects and molds to a minimum. It is a good idea to not plant your acorn squash in the same place for about 3 years.
Squash Vine Borer
Probably not the greatest danger to your squash but a significant one is the Squash Vine Borer or for those who like the scientific term, the “Melittia satyriniformis”.
This nasty little bugger tunnels through the stem not allowing the required nutrients to be transferred throughout the plant. This weakens the plant allowing for secondary infections to occur that may kill the plant.
It does not take large numbers of these insects to do the job and you will probably not notice they are even there until it is too late when the plant starts to wilt.
The Squash Bug damage generally occurs at the foliage parts of the plant and feed on the fruits and stems of the plant especially the vine crops.
They have ‘piercing-sucking’ instrument which allows them suck the nutrients effectively.
As a result the plants suffer severe damage and the symptoms show up in wilting and dried or black leaves.
Both young and adult phases are harmful for the harvest.
They suck all necessary nutrients from the plant and upset the flow of water and other elements which in turn results in wilting.
However wilting is the last stage of damage caused by the Squash Bug.
Initially yellowish specks appear on the foliage which gradually turns brown over time. Small plants are often unable to stand the pressure of damage and get killed easily.
Striped Cucumber Beetle
Striped cucumber beetles often fly from their hibernating sites early in the season, even before plants emerge. As soon as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin, melons and related seedlings push up through the soil, beetles can eat off the stems and cotyledons, frequently killing them. Adults later feed on the leaves, vines and fruits of plants that survive. Sometimes, deep pits are gnawed into the rind, making the produce unfit for consumption or market.
Damage is also caused by the larvae feeding on the roots of host plants, which weakens the plant and makes it susceptible to other problems. Adults also feed on beans, peas, corn and blossoms of other plants.
Most important, these beetles are vectors of a serious cucurbit disease known as bacterial wilt. Plants infected with the disease wilt quickly with leaves drying out prior to plant death. The causative bacteria, Erwinia tracheiphilia (E.F. Smith), overwinters in the bodies of hibernating beetles. These beetles introduce the bacteria into the plants through the fecal contamination of feeding wounds. This is the only natural method of infection known. Beetles also spread squash mosaic virus.
Harvesting Acorn Squash
If you take your fingernail and try to puncture the skin and you can’t, then you know your squash is ready. But don’t be too concerned about catching it at the right time, as squash can sit on the vine ripe for several weeks.
Even an early frost that may kill the vine should not harm a ripened squash. Either cut or snap the squash from the vine but try and leave a little bit of the stem on the squash to help hold some moisture.
It doesn’t really matter if you damage the vine, because it will die at the first frost anyways.
Storing Acorn Squash
If you store the squash in cool, but not too dry, place the acorn squash’s lifespan will be several months. Make sure the area is not too dry or too warm as both conditions will dry the squash out.
Even though squash likes cool places, it does not like to be less than 50 degrees F (or 10 Degrees C). So for Squash that has not been cooked or cut, you should try and refrigerate.
Once you have cooked the squash, you can freeze it or leave it in the fridge up to approximately 4 days.
The average of your acorn squash will normally be between 1 and 3 pounds and each vine will produce up to 5. Acorn squash is not really edible until it has fully matured, so try not and pick them when they are smaller and not mature.
You will only get one crop of acorn squash a year so there will be no picking throughout the planting season. Remember all squash will be picked all at once.
It will be very important you decide how much you want and plant only what you need, you do not want to be wasting good food.