Growing squash is well worth the space it takes, because it yields such an abundance of food. Whether summer squash (like zucchini and pattypan) or winter squash (like acorn or butternut), a gardener can look forward to an abundance of delectable dishes from this reliable crop.
Sometimes beginning gardeners think that winter squash is so named because you grow it in the winter... and I suppose that could be true if you live someplace where it never freezes. But it's really called winter squash because (unlike summer squash) it stores well over the winter, providing calories and vitamins through the "hunger gap" between the end of one growing season and the beginning of the next. Its storage qualities made it a staple survival food of native Americans.
There are four species of squash, each of which contains dozens to hundreds of varieties. Squash varieties within a species will cross with one another, but different species will not cross-pollinate. This means you can grow heirloom squashes near each other and still save their seeds, as long as they are from different species.
The scientific or Latin name of a plant consists of its Genus (always capitalized) and its species (never capitalized). The four species of squash are:
Pepo species include the summer squashes, including zucchinis, patty pan and crooknecks, as well as delicata and acorn winter squashes and some of the small pumpkins.
Maxima species includes the large pumpkins, as well as turban, hubbard, and buttercup winter squashes.
Moschata species include butternut winter squash and the so-called cheese pumpkins.
Mixta species squashes don’t taste all that good and require long, hot growing seasons. In Mexico they grow them for seeds for toasting, known as pepitas.
From here on, details vary depending on whether you are growing winter squash or summer squash, so for more information about growing squash and closely related topics, check out the following related articles: