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    Pumpkins, gourds and squash: They may be edible, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy eating them
    • October 7, 2023

    Q. What is the difference between squash, pumpkins, and gourds? Are some gourds edible?

    Squash (both winter and summer types), pumpkins, and gourds are members of the cucurbit family (as are cucumbers and melons). Most produce vines and like to climb via tendrils, although some seem to prefer a sprawling growth habit.

    Squash are edible and can be divided into summer and winter types. Summer squash, such as zucchini, pattypan, and crookneck, are best when harvested at 6-8 inches. Many gardeners have discovered that a day or two of inattention will result in a freakishly huge fruit that may still be edible but seedy and fibrous. Just because it’s edible doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy eating it.

    Winter squash, including pumpkins, form hard shells when mature and can keep for a long time if stored properly. They are ready to harvest when the stem and nearest tendrils turn brown. After harvest, they should be cured (the outer shell is allowed to dry and harden). To prevent spoilage due to mold, I like to wipe down each squash with alcohol (usually an inexpensive brand of vodka). Store in a cool, well-ventilated area, preferably on a wire rack that allows air to circulate around the fruit.

    Gourds are generally inedible, hard-shelled, and fibrous. Some, like the cucurbita-type, come in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. If they dry out completely without getting moldy, they can last several years.

    Bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are generally smooth-skinned and have a long neck. Swan, dipper, and penguin gourds are also bottle-type gourds. I’ve heard that they’re edible when very small and immature, but I haven’t had the chance to confirm this myself. (Experience has taught me that if something is described as “edible”, but there’s no mention of how it tastes, I’m probably not missing much.)

    Snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumerina) are – you guessed it – long, tubular, and somewhat resemble big green snakes. These are different from other cucurbits in that their flowers open after dark and are bright white. They rely on moths for pollination, so this habit serves them well.

    Sponge gourds (Luffa aegyptica) should only be harvested after the entire vine dies out and turns brown. At this point, the gourd begins to turn brown at both ends. After harvest, peel the tough outer shell away to expose the spongy interior.

    If you are interested in growing gourds, keep in mind that the vines can grow over 40 feet long in some cases. Trellising is recommended since they are avid climbers and vertical growing keeps the fruit off the ground. The long-neck varieties can be trained into interesting shapes. When the vine starts blooming, it will produce mostly male flowers near the base of the plant. Female flowers appear later. To increase the production of female flowers, clip the vine to a length of 10 feet. Hand pollination can also improve productivity.

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    ​ Orange County Register