Pumpkin, Squash, and Gourds

Introduction 

One plant group with the most species used as human food is the Cucurbitaceae family.  Within this family, the genus Cucurbita stands out as one of the most important.  Five of its species have been domesticated in the New World and for thousands of years they have been cultivated or at least handled by American societies.

In the U.S., the cultivated members of this genus fall into three species: Cucurbita pepo (pumpkins, summer squashes, and some winter squashes), C. maxima (buttercup and hubbard squashes, and giant pumpkins), and C. moschata (butternut squashes). With the exception of C. maxima, whose center of origin is in South America, it is assumed that the other cultivated species were domesticated in Mesoamerica. The catch-all term "gourd" includes some members of the genus Cucurbita as well as some members of the genus Lagenaria.

Squash, pumpkins, and gourds should not be planted until danger of frost is past.  Optimum soil temperature for germination is about 85ºF and little or no germination occurs below 60ºF.  Growers often plant before optimum temperatures are obtained in order to get an early harvest.  The use of plastic mulch, row covers, row orientation, and/or transplants can be utilized to overcome the cold-temperature conditions and produce an earlier crop.

Squash, pumpkins, and some gourds can be eaten in a variety of ways: cooked as a vegetable side dish; as an ingredient in pies, cakes, and pastries; and as a base for cold and warm soups.  The variety in colors and shapes make winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, and occasional summer squashes desirable decorations as well.  Pumpkins are painted or carved.  Gourds, as well, can be painted, made into bird houses, or used as beverage containers.  Cucurbits also serve as attractive centerpieces, arranged in baskets, on leaves, or hollowed out as serving containers.  The only limit to their possibilities is one's imagination. (adapted from http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/1492/cucurbits.html