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The word “squash” comes from the Native American word, askutasquash, which means to eat raw, though most of today’s squash is cooked before eating.

Squash is part of the cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers, watermelon, and pumpkins. Most varieties of squash are native to North America, with some imported from South American countries.

Seasonal Availability Chart

Types & Varieties
Squash is divided into two categories: winter and summer. Both are warm weather crops, with summer squash grown for fresh and winter squash often grown for storage over the winter.

Winter squash is often unsymmetrical or oddly shaped, have harder rinds for better storage, up to several months. Popular types of winter squash include acorn, spaghetti, butternut, buttercup, and hubbard.

Summer squash refers to squash that grows quickly and is harvested immature including zucchini (which has its own profile), yellow (straightneck and crookneck), and scallop squash. These have softer rinds and are often eaten before full seed development when the flesh is still tender.

CULTIVATION

All squash need warm weather to grow and should not be planted until the risk of frost has passed and ground temperatures are at least 60°F, preferably 70 to 90°F.

Squash is best planted from seed (transplants are very fragile) and prefer well-drained, sandy and loamy soils, rich in organic matter with a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5. Crops should be rotated on an annual basis.

Winter squash takes 80 to 120 days to mature. Two pounds of seed will yield an acre of vining winter squash. Summer squash yields fruit in 40 to 50 days, can be planted every 2 weeks for continuous production, and up to 60 days before the last frost. Four pounds of seed will yield an acre of summer squash.

All squash require adequate water and good drainage, and a barrier or platform of some sort to keep fruit off of the soil can prevent rot and pest damage.

Pests & Diseases
Squash are susceptible to several pests and diseases. The most prevalent diseases are wilt, mildew and rot. Good crop rotation and weeding is important to mitigate disease.

Planting early, before virus-carrying insects arrive, or later in the season also reduces diseases and crop defects such as fruit rot and streaking.

Pests include aphids, pickleworms, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers. Soil-based pests, such as beetle grubs, wireworms, and other larvae, can damage young plants by depriving the soil of nutrients and feeding on roots.

Squash are most vulnerable to pests as seedlings and during flowering, and most susceptible to disease after bearing fruit.

Plants produce male and female flowers, which must be pollinated to bear fruit. Pest control should avoid destroying good insects, such as bees.

Squash flowers are less attractive sources of pollen and nectar to bees than other flowers, so competing flowering plants should be removed from growing areas.

Storage & Packaging
At maturity, winter squash (and pumpkins) should be cut from the vine and allowed to cure for 2 weeks at warmer temperatures (at least 70°F).

The curing process will reduce weight by about 10 percent due to water loss, but healthy fruit will heal and the skin will harden. Exposure to cold at this stage will damage squash and reduce shelf life.

Caution should be used to prevent rough handling or pressure from packaging, as this will cause bruising. A healthy butternut squash—not exposed to chilling injury—can be stored for 3 to 4 months.

Summer squash should be harvested before full maturity and hard seeds. It can be harvested several times per week from staggered plantings and delivered to market immediately.

If necessary, summer squash can last 3 to 4 days at 45 to 50°F and 85 to 90% humidity, but will quickly breakdown afterward.

References: Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Cooperative Extension.

GRADES & GOOD ARRIVAL

Generally speaking, the percentage of defects shown on a timely government inspection certificate should not exceed the percentage of allowable defects, provided: (1) transportation conditions were normal; (2) the USDA or CFIA inspection was timely; and (3) the entire lot was inspected.

There are no good arrival guidelines for this commodity specific to Canada; U.S. guidelines apply to shipments unless otherwise agreed by contract.

References: DRC, PACA, USDA.

SUMMER SQUASH

U.S. Grade Standards Days Since Shipment % of Defects Allowed Optimum Transit Temp. (°F)
10-5-1 5
4
3
2
1
15-8-3
14-8-3
13-7-2
11-6-1
10-5-1
41-50°

WINTER SQUASH

U.S. Grade Standards Days Since Shipment % of Defects Allowed Optimum Transit Temp. (°F)
10-2 5
4
3
2
1
15-4
14-4
13-3
11-2
10-2
50-55°

INSPECTOR’S INSIGHTS

• Worm holes are scored as a defect when unhealed, or when there are more than 2 holes in a winter squash or pumpkin
• There is no requirement in the U.S. No. 1 grade for a pumpkin to have its stem attached
• Score dry rot as a defect whenever it affects an area of more than 1 inch in diameter (combined or in total) on a 10-pound specimen.

Source: Tom Yawman, International Produce Training, www.ipt.us.com.


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