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PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
Winter squashes are easy-to-grow crops, even for beginner gardeners. They’re excellent for long-term storage, and their flavorful flesh is delicious roasted, mashed or puréed into soup. The only trouble with most winter squash varieties is that sometimes the fruits are too big.
Because I’m the only one in my house who likes to eat them, a full-sized winter squash is more than I can eat in one meal. To conquer this issue, over the last few years, I’ve planted several miniature-fruited winter squash varieties. Each fruit is single serving-sized, making it a perfect dinner side dish.
These mini winter-squash selections are both flavorful and prolific.
Of all the mini winter squashes Honeynut (pictured above) is probably my favorite. Each adorable, personal-sized fruit is very sweet. They look like miniature butternut squash, weighing only a half pound to a pound each. Bred at Cornell University, Honeynut is a must-grow for me every year.
I like this variety for container growing. Not only are the fruits small, but so are the vines. Reaching only 3 to 4 feet wide, the vines of Butterbush are perfect for small-space gardening. The fruits are slightly larger and lighter skinned than Honeynut, but the flavor is definitely there. The flesh of the fruit is very dark orange, and it has a smooth texture when cooked. Each vine produces about four squash.
Small Wonder Squash
If you enjoy spaghetti squash but don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much of it, this is the variety for you. Each Small Wonder produces the perfect single-sized portion of “spaghetti.” The oval fruits have yellow skin and yellow flesh, and they’re delicious roasted and topped with a little butter or pasta sauce.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
A miniature-fruited dumpling variety, this squash produces perfect, 1-pound fruits with white-and-green striped skin. The tender interior flesh is a beautiful orange. I like Sweet Dumpling far better than acorn-type squash.
Honey Bear Squash
Speaking of acorn-types, ‘Honey Bear’ is probably the best miniature one. Each fruit is only about four inches long and weighs less than a pound. The plants are compact and produce high yields. The fruits have a traditional acorn-squash flavor, and the variety won a 2009 All-America Selections award for its disease resistance, production and flavor.
Plant Your Winter Squash Now
To grow winter squash, sow seeds directly into the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Plant full-sized varieties 4 to 6 feet apart, while bush-types can be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Most varieties require between 90 and 110 days to reach maturity, and you’ll know the fruits are ripe when the rinds can’t be dented with a press of your fingernail.
When harvesting winter squash, leave 1 to 2 inches of stem on each fruit. Allow the skins to cure by putting the harvested squash in a warm, dry location for four or five days. For maximum shelf life, store them at 50 to 55 degrees F with 55- to 70-percent humidity.