Research is limited, though some phytonutrients found in winter squash have been linked with anti-cancer properties in studies of other plants. Winter squash is a good source of all the vitamins and minerals listed. More nutrient-dense than its cousin, the summer squash. Most notable in one serving of winter squash are vitamins A (more than 100 percent RDA) and C (more than 30 percent RDA). These vitamins team up for many functions. They support the immune response of white blood cells toward pathogens. They act as antioxidants in water soluble areas of the body, protecting cells from free radical damage. Some major antioxidant actions help prevent the buildup of plaque in blood vessels, reduce inflammation and help prevent damage to cells in the eye. Winter squash gives potassium, key to maintaining normal blood pressure, nerve cell transmission and muscle contraction. High fiber content supports digestion, removes excess cholesterol and helps regulate blood sugar. Pregnant women need the B vitamin folate for normal fetal neural development. Also contributes to heart health by preventing homocysteine, an amino acid that in high concentrations causes blood vessel stiffening. With other B vitamins, squash helps make energy through the metabolism of lipids, carbohydrates and proteins.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Vitamins – A, C, B9 (Folate), B1 (Thiamin), B6 (Pyridoxine), B3 (Niacin) and B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Minerals – Potassium, Manganese, Copper, Iron and Magnesium
May reduce risk and symptoms of benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH), atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease, heart attack, stroke, colon cancer (potentially others), asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to Grow
Common Winter Squash (butternut, acorn, delicious Hubbard, banana, buttercup and spaghetti squash). Thrives in warmer weather. Winter vining cultivars may grow 10-20 feet long and require generous space. Winter squash takes 3-4 months to mature. Prefers rich soil in full sun with plenty of organic matter and great drainage. Dig in a generous amount of well-aged compost, manure or planting mix. The pH should be near 6. In mid-spring, sow seeds indoors in 3-inch pots, two seeds to a pot. Sow on a windowsill, under fluorescent light or on a sun porch. Keep soil moist. Thin out seedlings if needed to provide room for the strongest seedling. Plant bush types in late spring 3 feet apart in rows 5 feet apart. Plant vining cultivars 3 feet apart in rows 8 feet apart. Sow directly outdoors in mid to late spring when soil temperatures rise to a minimum of 65˚F. Create small hills 6 feet apart with amended soil. Sow seeds 6 per hill. Keep them watered, and thin out to the two best seedlings per hill. Mulch around the seedlings with straw, hay or leaves when the vines are longer and stronger. Fertilize every few weeks, especially after fruits set, with a nutrient-rich fertilizer like compost tea, manure tea or liquid seaweed extract. If the ground is always moist at this time, raise them off the ground on bricks or blocks. Harvest only when it is fully mature, as the taste depends on it. Do this just before the first expected frost, and they will store longer. Harvest during a dry time, using a sharp knife you wash between each cut to prevent spreading disease. Cure by letting dry in the sun until the stems wither. Store in a cool, shaded area to extend storage time.
See Squash (Summer) for common pests and their control methods.
To avoid disease, water soil not foliage. Keep beds weed free. To ensure fertilization, use a paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male stamen to the female pistil.