Winter Seed Saving: Pumpkins and Squash

Butternut Squash with seeds. Copyright Jill Henderson

Jill HendersonShow Me Oz

With the holidays in full swing, the last thing people might be thinking of is gardening.  But trust me, the two go together like pumpkin pie and whipped cream!  In fact, if you grew your own pumpkins or squash this year and plan on using the sweet flesh to make delectable holiday pies, breads or savory dishes, now is the perfect time to save seed!

Extracting and drying seeds from hard-shelled squash and pumpkins is fairly straightforward.  But before you do it, make sure that the seeds you save now will come true to type next year.   Here’s the low-down on keeping these scrumptious vegetables true to type.

Just like we humans, all plants belong to a family. Their names can span many generations and include ancestral relationships.  Plants are classified in descending order from Kingdom to Variety – top to bottom, like a family tree. For seed saving purposes, we only need to focus on the names of the Family, Genus, Species and Variety of the plants we grow in our gardens.

All the squash in your garden – including gourds, summer squash, cucumbers and melons – belong to the Cucurbitaceae (Cucurbit) Family.  Within that family are many genera, including that of Cucurbita , which contains all the various kinds of squash and gourd in the world.  There are many species within a genera.  And each species contains many varieties.  This is the way the full botanical name of one specific variety of squash is broken down:

  • Family – Cucurbitaceae
  • Genus – Cucurbita
  • Species – maxima
  • Variety [var.] (or cultivar) – Southern Delight Hubbard

If you look it up, you will see the entire botanical name written something like this:
Southern Delight Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima var. “Southern Delight”)

There are four species of Cucurbits that you need to keep an eye on.  They are C. maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata, and C. pepo.

Butternut squash flowers. Copyright Jill HendersonIn general, you can grow one variety of squash from each of these four species without worrying about cross pollination. The real problem lies in knowing which variety belongs to which species, as that isn’t always obvious. That is why I have included the following list of species and their varieties. Keep in mind that this list is not 100% complete. If in doubt, simply ask the company from which you bought your seed or search “botanical name of…(fill in the blank)” online.

  • Cucurbita maxima varieties include banana, buttercup, Hubbard, Hokkaido, kubocha, sweet keeper, red kuri, delicious, French turban, and marrows. All of these varieties will cross pollinate each other, but not those of other species.
  • Cucurbita mixta varieties include all cushaws, many green-and-white striped squash, Japanese pie, silverseed gourd and Tennessee sweet potato. All of these varieties will cross pollinate each other, but not those of other species.
  • Cucurbita moschata varieties include, cheese type squashes and pumpkins, all butternuts, and winter crooknecks. All of these varieties will cross pollinate each other, but not those of other species.
  • Cucurbita pepo varieties include many types of gourds, winter squashes such as acorn, delicata, cocozelle, English marrow, most types of sweet pumpkins and all summer squashes including yellow, crookneck, scallop, spaghetti and zucchini. All of these varieties will cross pollinate each other, but not those of other species.

There are conflicting reports of cross breeding within the different species of the genera, but for the home seed saver, the best method of ensuring purity is to grow only one variety of each of the four species during the growing season. Otherwise, isolate varieties within the same species by up to a mile or hand-pollinate individual flowers.

As previously mentioned, harvesting seeds of winter squash is pretty straightforward and best done when preparing the squash to eat.

Ripe squash seeds, cleaned and ready to dry. Copyright Jill HendersonCut open the fruit and scoop the seeds into a large bowl. Add a generous amount of water and rub the seeds away from the fleshy membranes.  Rinse until most of the membranes are gone. Drain the seeds well and dry on a rigid surface such as a ceramic plate (never paper) away from direct sunlight until the seeds snap when folded in half.

Sort through your seeds before storage and keep only those that are firm, fully plump, and free of cracks or deformations.  Seeds that are very thin or flat did not ripen and contain no viable seed within the hull.  These should be removed.  Store seeds in a dark cool place for up to three years.

Once you know how to save the seeds of your own home-grown winter favorites, you’ll never have to buy another squash seed again!

Happy seed saving!

© 2016 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.

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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.

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4 responses to “Winter Seed Saving: Pumpkins and Squash

  1. You provided another great blog post about seed saving! I saved my favorite (1 moschata- squash) this year for traits:-) I wanted in our growing area-I am excited to see, if I can get what I planned for:-)
    I enjoy your posts on seed saving-you break it down + make it something anyone can do-if they just take the time to learn + grow:-)

  2. Thank you, Robbie. I appreciate that. I love seeds and want to help others learn about seed saving. Good job on the moschatas. I spent quite a bit of time doing that with my melons this year. I was luck to have a completely new throwback melon turn out to be a gem all its own! I’ve saved seed from both and we’ll see what happens…

  3. Important information for me. I successfully grew butternuts last year and was concerned about possible cross pollination with my zucchini.
    I will be saving this seed (column) for future reference. Thanks

  4. Awesome! I’m so glad that helped resolve your dilemma, Bob!

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