A sweet-tasting winter squash, delicata needs warm temperatures and plenty of room to grow. Winter squash differs from summer squash in that winter squash is harvested when mature, the seeds are fully developed and the rind becomes hard, allowing for winter storage. Summer squash harvest occurs when the rind of the fruit is still soft, not fully matured and the seeds not yet entirely developed within the fruit. With the right growing environment and care, delicata plants will produce an abundance of fresh squash and be ready to pick before winter sets in.
When to Harvest
Delicata is ready to harvest roughly 100 days after planting, once the white rind becomes hard and turns beige and an orange hue appears on the squash. As the delicata approaches maturity, the stems connecting the fruit to the vine will start to dry out. Harvest the bulk of the crop in late September or early October before the frost hits, and cut the stems using garden pruners or a sharp knife so you don't damage the remaining vine. Leave a 2-inch piece of stem attached to the squash, as shorter stems may cause the squash to rot.
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When planting delicata, consider the space required. Vine varieties need roughly 60 square feet to grow and spread, and bush or semi-vine varieties need less space, making them suitable for smaller garden areas. Plant seeds once the soil has warmed up and any risk of frost has passed; seeds will not germinate in cold soil. For vine varieties, plant five seeds 1-inch deep, in hills 6 feet apart, thinning to the strongest three plants once the seedlings sprout. Plant semi-vine varieties closer together and bush varieties 3 feet apart.
For successful growth, cultivate regularly to keep weed-free and do not overwater; squash prefers dryer soil. Water using soaker hoses or drip irrigation to avoid powdery mildew that can develop when foliage remains damp from overhead watering. Avoid the use of insecticides, as squash need bees for pollination, but if needed, use insecticides early in the evening once the bees have finished their day's work. Once harvested, store delicata squash in a dry location at 55 degrees Fahrenheit and enjoy it all winter long.
"Delicata," also known as sweet potato squash, is long, cylindrical and cream colored with dark green stripes. Very sweet cultivars "Honey Boat" and "Sugar Loaf" are both tan with dark green stripes, and round variety "Sweet Dumplings" presents an off-white background with dark green stripes. All winter squash varieties are ready to harvest late in the season once mature, have hard rinds, and the shell darkens or alters in color.
- University of Illinois Extension; Winter Squash; Ron Wolford , et al.
- Purdue University Consumer Horticulture; Harvest Winter Squash This Summer; B. Rosie Lerner; August 2001
- Iowa State University Extension; 2002 All-America Selection Winners; James Romer; March 2002
- Washington State University Extension; The Delicious Delicata; October 2006