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#SproutChallenge Lesson 4: Gourds, Pumpkins, and Squash, Oh my!

Welcome back to the #SproutChallenge!  First, a quick recap on our team’s ongoing projects. In the previous lesson, we introduced the common bean and we featured Ms. Callie’s experiment showing the bean seeds sprouting.  She documented the most-recent stage of her project in the picture below where she transferred the plant into her garden.  What progress do you notice? How does this example compare to your own experiment?

As we have referenced in our #SproutChallenge lessons, beans and  corn play a leading role in the Three Sisters story. In this post, we will explore the third main character: squash. Squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. pepo) is a native crop of the New World and belongs to the Cucurbita genus, which includes plants like zucchini, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, and melons. Did you know that these examples 

are scientifically considered to be fruits? In botany, the word “pepo” indicates a specific type of berry that has thick walls with fleshy fruit on the inside. This fleshy fruit grows from a vine that has a thick, hairy stem with large leaves. Squash vines tend to spread out, covering large areas of ground. This natural covering shades the ground and helps the soil retain moisture.

Squash Varities

Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times, 2018

Some squashes are gourds, meaning they are hard-shelled fruits and can be cultivated as ornaments once they are dried to make objects such as cups, scoops and ladles. Species such as calabash fruits (Lagenaria sinceraria), for example,

have been cultivated worldwide for thousands of years to make bottle gourds and even musical instruments! In the Americas, archaeological evidence (like charred seeds and gourd containers) and genetic data suggests that Native Peoples were actively cultivating squash some 5,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Dried Gourd

Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibition, Gourd bowl, dated to 2,060 years ago

The English name for squash comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” The fruit is nutritious, rich in vitamins A and C, and iron. One may also consume other parts of the plant like the seeds, shoots, blossoms, and leaves. The two most common types of squash we eat today are the summer and winter kind. Summer (tender) squash includes varieties like zucchini, yellow squash, and scalloped, or patty pan, squash. Some are harvested early so that the skins are edible, others can be eaten raw or cooked and are easy additions to salads, casseroles, and soups. Winter (or hard-skinned) squash is harvested once the fruit and seeds have reached full maturity, making the outer skin tough and inedible. If you’ve ever enjoyed butternut or spaghetti squash, you’ve eaten a winter squash.

What is your favorite way to eat squash? Share your recipes with us on our social media platforms! 

spaghetti squash

Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times, 2018

Additional Resources

Know Your Summer Squash video, UT Extension 

Library of Congress

UTIA Recipe

UTIA Guide to Growing Cucurbits

Squash Growing Lapse 

Know our Squash: How They Look, How They Cook