Virginia agriculture: Winter squash provides fresh produce throughout colder months
Winter squash reach its peak in the fall, and several varieties of the seasonal gourds are available at local farm stands and farmers markets through December.
“Winter squash isn’t grown in large acreage in Virginia, but common varieties like acorn, butternut and spaghetti can be found among the state’s smaller farms, farmers markets and backyard gardens as early as late summer,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
Low in calories and rich in vitamins A and C and fiber, winter squash can be enjoyed well into the winter if stored in a cool, dry environment. Many varieties possess a thick rind that allows the squash to keep for several weeks.
Judy and Scott Barnes, who grow butternut and sweet dumpling squash at Morris Orchard in Amherst County, have started their annual harvest despite weather-related setbacks in the summer.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service crop report for Oct. 4, nearby Lynchburg had received 17.6 inches of rain above the normal average since Jan. 1. Judy Barnes said the excess moisture decreased pollination activity and led to an increase in fungus.
“We’ve had plenty of rain, and our pumpkins have grown wonderfully—probably some of the prettiest we’ve ever grown,” she said. “But our squash has not fared quite as well as they have in the past. We have about half a crop this year.”
Frederick County farmer John Marker said he anticipated a strong crop this year at Marker-Miller Orchards near Winchester, noting his harvest would begin the first full week of October.
The orchards’ farm store sells acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata and kabocha squash, and Marker said winter squash is a popular draw because “it’s fairly easy to fix and is very tasty.
“Winter squash only comes in once a year and has a fairly short season, so it’s kind of a treat,” he said. “We’re open until December, and customers will keep coming back as long as they can get it. A lot of customers will keep it at home over the winter, and that’s great.”