Delicata winter squash is a distinctive member of the winter squash family. Contrary to its name, winter squash is actually grown during the peak of the summer season and harvested in the fall. Known for their hard rind, winter squash can be stored for months in a cool, dry area. Among the different types of winter squash, Delicata stands out with its unique qualities.
A Member of the Cucurbit Family
Winter squash, including Delicata squash, belongs to the Cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers and zucchini. The various winter squash varieties can be classified into three species groups: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita maxima. Delicata squash, as a member of C. pepo, is a relatively small variety.
Introduced in 1891, this heirloom squash variety is typically grown on a vine, although there is also a bush variety available. Delicata squash features cream-colored fruit with green stripes, oblong in shape, and approximately 3 inches (7.5 cm) across and 6 inches (15 cm) long. The interior flesh is pale yellow and offers a sweet potato-like taste, which is why it is sometimes referred to as sweet potato squash or peanut squash. Unlike other winter squash, the skin of Delicata is tender and edible, although this means its storage time is slightly shorter compared to harder-skinned varieties like Butternut or Acorn squash.
If you’re intrigued by the unique qualities of Delicata squash, you might be interested in growing your own.
Growing Delicata Squash
Delicata squash plants have a relatively short growing season and typically mature within 80-100 days. They can be sown directly in the soil or started indoors for later transplanting. These plants reach a height of 10-12 inches (25.5 to 30.5 cm) with a spread of 24-28 inches (61 to 71 cm).
When growing Delicata squash, choose a sunny location with full sun exposure. The Cornell Bush Delicata variety requires only 4 square feet (0.5 sq. m.) of garden space, while vining Delicata squash varieties need at least 20 square feet (2 sq. m.) of space.
To prepare the soil, incorporate a 3-inch (7.5 cm) layer of compost. Create a flat-topped, one square foot (0.1 sq. m.) raised mound with the amended soil. Once the daytime temperatures consistently exceed 70°F (21°C) for five to seven days, it’s time to plant your Delicata winter squash.
Sow five Delicata seeds evenly spaced and press them into the soil, ensuring they are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep. Lightly cover the seeds with soil and pat it down gently. Water the mound thoroughly until it is soaked. Maintain moisture until the seedlings emerge. Once the first set of leaves reaches 2 inches (5 cm) in length, thin out the seedlings, leaving only three plants. Water as needed for the next month, ensuring the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil remains moist. Afterward, water deeply only when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of soil becomes dry.
To suppress weed growth and retain moisture levels, spread a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of mulch in a 2-foot (0.5 m) circle around the Delicata plants. When the plants reach 6-8 inches (15 to 20.5 cm) tall, apply a 1-inch (2.5 cm) deep and 4-inch (10 cm) wide layer of aged manure or rich compost around the plants. Repeat this process just before the first buds plump up, right before they bloom.
Keep the growing area weed-free and regularly inspect the plants for powdery mildew. Remove any affected parts and pick insects from the fruit. For more severe infestations, you can apply pyrethrin according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Harvesting Delicata Squash
With its delicious flavor and edible peel, Delicata squash is perfect for stuffing or slicing and roasting. You’ll eagerly await the time for Delicata squash harvesting to arrive. To determine if it’s ready, press a fingernail against the skin. If it feels hard, you can use pruning shears to cut the fruit from the vine, leaving about 2 inches (5 cm) of the vine attached.
While Delicata squash has a slightly shorter storage life compared to hard-skinned varieties, it can still be stored for approximately three months at room temperature in a cool, dry area (around 50-55°F or 10-12°C). Alternatively, you can freeze the fruit by cooking it until soft, scooping out the flesh, and packing it in labeled freezer bags. This will allow you to enjoy the deliciousness of this heirloom squash variety for an extended period of time.
For more information on Delicata squash and to explore other gardening options, visit Ames Farm Center.