Garden Wonders: The Magical World of Heirloom Squash Varieties

A barefoot Faerie in the garden growing organic heirloom squash varieties. Garden Faerie Botanicals. British Columbia Canada

Discover the rich and diverse world of heirloom squash varieties, a true gem for any garden enthusiast. These varieties are not just fruit; they are a living piece of history, carrying with them the stories and traditions of generations past. For those who treasure gardening, heirloom squash offers a unique connection to our agricultural heritage, allowing us to grow something that’s both ancient and full of character.

Heirloom squash varieties are celebrated for their incredible diversity in shape, size, color, and taste, presenting a far broader range than what’s typically seen in grocery aisles. Imagine a garden where the squash ranges from the whimsically shaped ‘Turban’ to the elegantly curved ‘Crookneck’, each with its own unique story and name that often reflects its intriguing history or distinct physical characteristics. Diving into the world of heirloom squash means joining a community committed to preserving these precious varieties for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations.

But the appeal of heirloom squash goes beyond their intriguing appearances. These varieties often boast richer, more complex flavors compared to conventional types, making them a favorite among culinary enthusiasts. The creamy texture of a well-grown ‘Butternut’, the sweet and nutty taste of a ripe ‘Delicata’ – these are experiences that elevate everyday cooking into something extraordinary. Cultivating heirloom squash in your garden is akin to having a treasure trove of gourmet ingredients at your fingertips, each waiting to transform your kitchen into a place of culinary discovery.

What Makes a Squash an Heirloom

Heirloom squash varieties, much like family heirlooms, are treasured for their historical significance and the legacy they carry. These varieties have been passed down through generations, often for over 50 years, and are open-pollinated. This means they are pollinated naturally by wind, insects, or birds, allowing them to retain their unique characteristics year after year. Unlike hybrid varieties, which are bred for specific traits like disease resistance or uniformity, heirloom squash varieties are preserved for their distinctive flavors, textures, and often whimsical shapes.

The allure of heirloom squash lies in their diversity and the stories they tell. Each variety is a piece of agricultural history, reflecting the preferences, climates, and cultures of the people who cultivated them. For instance, the ‘Banana Squash’, with its elongated shape and rich flavor, was a popular choice in early American gardens, while the ‘Hubbard Squash’ has its roots in South America and was brought to the United States in the 19th century. These squashes are not just plants; they are living archives of our gardening heritage.

Growing heirloom squash varieties also plays a crucial role in biodiversity. In a world where commercial agriculture increasingly favors a narrow range of crops, heirloom varieties offer a genetic diversity that is essential for the health and resilience of our food systems. Each heirloom squash carries unique genes that could be key to developing future varieties that are more adaptable during the grand solar minimums growing conditions. As gardeners, by cultivating these heirlooms, we contribute to preserving this vital diversity.

Benefits of Growing Heirloom Squash

The decision to grow heirloom squash in one’s garden extends far beyond cultivating a unique and delicious crop. It is an investment in agricultural diversity, a contribution to food secure practices, and a way to enjoy a range of benefits that these special varieties offer.

First and foremost, heirloom squash varieties bring unmatched culinary delights to the table. Their flavors are often more complex and nuanced compared to many commercial varieties. For example, the ‘Rouge vif D’Etampes’, also known as Cinderella Pumpkin, is renowned for its deep, rich flavor, making it a favorite for pies and soups. The ‘Sweet Dumpling’, with its small, sweet, and tender flesh, is perfect for individual servings, stuffed or baked. The diversity in flavors, textures, and cooking properties among heirloom squash varieties allows home cooks to experiment and discover new favorite recipes.

Another significant benefit of growing heirloom squash is the connection to history and tradition. Planting these varieties is like growing a piece of history in your own backyard. Each variety has a story, be it a ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkin with its centuries-old heritage in the Northeastern United States or the ancient ‘Lakota’ squash, revered by the Lakota Sioux tribe. Gardeners are often fascinated by the journey these seeds have taken through time, providing a tangible link to the past and a reminder of the cultural importance of these plants.

Furthermore, cultivating heirloom squash contributes to biodiversity in your garden. These varieties, with their diverse growth habits, shapes, and colors, can attract a variety of pollinators, enhancing the overall health and ecological balance of the garden space. They also play a critical role in preserving genetic diversity, which is crucial in a world where the standardization of crop varieties has become the norm. By growing them, gardeners help to maintain a wide genetic pool, which is vital for the adaptability and resilience of food crops in the face of the massive extinction of over 93% of our plant biodiversity.

Lastly, growing heirloom squash varieties can be incredibly rewarding on a personal level. There is a unique sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in nurturing these plants from seed to harvest, knowing that you are part of a lineage of gardeners who have done the same for generations. It connects individuals to a community of like-minded enthusiasts who share a passion for preserving these valuable varieties.

An image of all the different kinds of Heirloom squash varieties. Garden Faerie Botanicals. Heirloom Seeds Canada

General Growing Tips for Heirloom Squash

Growing heirloom squash can be a gratifying experience, filled with learning, the joy of harvesting and then consuming. These tips will help ensure your heirloom squash thrive, bringing their unique flavors and stories to life in your garden.

Selecting the Right Site: Heirloom squash plants love the sun, so choose a location in your garden that gets plenty of sunlight — at least six hours a day. They also need well-draining soil to prevent root rot. If your garden has heavy clay soil, consider raising your beds or growing squash in large containers with a mix of potting soil and compost.

Soil Preparation: Heirloom squash varieties generally prefer a rich, fertile soil. Before planting, enrich your soil with well-rotted compost or aged manure. This will provide the nutrients these plants need to grow strong and healthy. The ideal pH for squash is slightly acidic to neutral, around 6.0 to 7.0. It’s a good idea to get your soil tested and adjust it accordingly.

Planting: Sow seeds directly in the ground after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Plant them about an inch deep and space them according to the variety’s requirements; some squash plants can be quite sprawling. For vining varieties, consider using trellises or supports to save space and keep the fruits off the ground.

Watering and Mulching: Regular watering is essential for squash, especially during dry periods. However, it’s important to avoid wetting the leaves to reduce the risk of fungal diseases. A drip irrigation system or soaker hoses are ideal. Mulching around the plants helps retain moisture, keeps the roots cool, and suppresses weeds.

Pollination: Heirloom squash varieties are typically open-pollinated, which means they rely on insects like bees for pollination. If you notice poor fruit set, you may need to hand-pollinate flowers. This involves transferring pollen from male flowers to female flowers using a small brush or even your finger.

Pest and Disease Management: Keep an eye out for common pests like squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Organic methods like neem oil, handpicking pests, and using row covers can be effective. Rotate your squash crops each year to prevent disease build-up in the soil.

Harvesting: Harvest time varies depending on the variety. Generally, winter squash should be harvested when the rind is hard and the stem begins to dry and turn brown. Summer squash varieties are best picked when they are young and tender.

Seed Saving: One of the joys of growing heirloom squash is saving seeds for next year’s garden. Choose the healthiest and most desirable fruits for seed saving. Make sure to properly clean and dry the seeds before storing them in a cool, dry place. Please take some time to learn about the proper methods, to ensure your seed will grow true to type. Cross pollinations will occur if varieties of the same species are grown near each other.

By following these tips, you can successfully grow a variety of heirloom squash in your garden, enjoying not only their delicious fruits but also the satisfaction of participating in a tradition of seed saving and biodiversity preservation.


After looking into the delightful world of heirloom squash varieties, it is clear that these plants offer much more than just their sumptuous fruits. They are a living link to our past, a testament to the diversity of nature, and a crucial component of food security. By choosing to cultivate these varieties, gardeners not only enjoy the rich flavors and unique characteristics of each squash but also contribute to the preservation of our agricultural heritage.

Growing heirloom squash is an act of participation in a tradition that dates back centuries. It’s a way to reclaim a piece of lost agrarian art, to connect with the land in a manner that is both deeply personal and inherently communal. In your garden, each heirloom squash plant tells its own story, contributes its own flavor, and adds its own beauty to the tapestry of biodiversity.

Moreover, as we nurture these varieties, we also nurture the environment and our communities. We support the pollinators, enrich the soil, and share the bounty and knowledge with neighbors and friends. We become not just gardeners but also guardians of genetic diversity and advocates for a more sustainable and resilient food system.

So, as you plan your garden, consider the heirloom squash, not just for its culinary potential but for its role in a larger story — a story of heritage, conservation, and connection. Embrace the joy of growing these remarkable varieties and become a part of the continuing story of heirloom squash.

Let your garden be a place of discovery, wonder, and food secure abundance. See you in the garden!

Cucurbita Maxima

Cucurbita maxima Heirloom squash varieties. Garden Faerie Botanicals British Columbia Canada

Cucurbita maxima is known for some of the largest and most diverse squash varieties. These squashes are typically characterized by their thick stems and round leaves. They include:

‘Atlantic Giant’: Famous for its potential to grow into mammoth sizes, often used in giant pumpkin contests.

‘Hubbard’: A large and often irregularly shaped variety, known for its hard skin and sweet, fine-textured flesh.

‘Turban Squash’: Known for its distinctive turban-like cap, it has an unusual appearance and a mild, nutty flavor.

‘Buttercup’: Compact and dark green, often with a grey “button” on the bottom. It’s sweet and creamy, perfect for baking and mashing.

‘Kabocha’: This Japanese pumpkin has a strong yet sweet flavor and a fluffy texture, making it ideal for soufflés and pies.

Here is an extensive list of various Cucurbita maxima squash varieties. If you notice any are missing leave a comment down below of the variety!

  • Amphora
  • Aurantiaca-Alba
  • Atlantic Giant
  • Australian Butter
  • Big Moon
  • Bleu de Hongrie
  • Blue Banana
  • Buttercup squash
  • Crown Prince
  • Flat White Boer A
  • Galeux d’Eysines
  • Gelber Zentner
  • Giraumon Turban
  • Golden Delicious
  • Golias
  • Green Hubbard
  • Grosser Gelber Zentner
  • Grosser Gruener
  • Hubbard squash
  • Kiszombori
  • Kabocha
  • Mammut
  • Marina di Chioggia
  • Massimo di Chioggia
  • Muscat de Provence
  • Orange Früchte
  • Peruaner Kürbis
  • Prizewinner
  • Queensland Blue
  • Red kuri squash (Hokkaido)
  • Roter Zentner
  • Sweet meat
  • Tondo di Nizza
  • Triambelkürbis
  • Trombone
  • Turban squash
  • Valenciano
  • Veltruska
  • Viridi-Alba
  • Wildsippe Argentinien
  • Yellow Hubbard

Cucurbita Pepo

Cucurbita pepo. Heirloom Squash Varieties. Great for your organic heirloom garden. Garden Faerie Botanicals. British Columbia Canada Buy the seeds in the online shop.

Cucurbita pepo includes a wide range of both summer and winter squash varieties. They are known for their softer stems and variable shapes. Some popular examples are:

‘Zucchini’ (Courgette): A summer squash that comes in green, yellow, and even striped varieties. It’s best picked young for its tender flesh.

‘Yellow Summer Squash’: Includes varieties like the straightneck and crookneck, known for their bright yellow skin and mild flavor.

‘Acorn Squash’: Shaped like an acorn, it has ridged skin and sweet, nutty flesh. It’s perfect for roasting and stuffing.

‘Delicata’: Also known as sweet potato squash for its creamy flavor and texture. The skin is edible, making it easy to prepare.

‘Spaghetti Squash’: When cooked, the flesh falls away in ribbons or strands like spaghetti, making it a popular low-carb substitute.

Cucurbita pepo, a cultivated plant in the genus Cucurbita, includes a wide range of squash and pumpkin varieties. Some notable cultivars in this species are:

  • Acorn squash
  • Delicata squash
  • Gem squash
  • Heart of gold squash
  • Kamo kamo (also called kumi kumi)
  • Pattypan squash
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Zucchini

Cucurbita Moschata

An image of the different heirloom varieties of  Cucurbita Moschata. Garden Faerie Botanicals. Heirloom Seeds Canada

Cucurbita moschata typically includes winter squash varieties that are known for their hardy nature. These squashes often have a longer shelf life. Examples include:

‘Butternut Squash’: Pear-shaped with a creamy texture and sweet, nutty flavor. It’s versatile in both savory and sweet dishes.

‘Musquee de Provence’: A French heirloom variety, known for its deep ribbing and sweet, deep orange flesh.

‘Long Island Cheese’: Named for its resemblance to a wheel of cheese, this variety is excellent for pies and has a mild, sweet flavor.

Here is a list of some Cucurbita moschata varieties:

  • Al Hachi: A winter squash used in Kashmir, usually dried.
  • Aehobak: A summer squash, also called Korean zucchini.
  • Brazilian crook neck (Abóbora de pescoço or Abóbora seca): Found in Brazil, with deep orange flesh and dark green skin with light orange highlights.
  • Butternut squash: Popular in North America.
  • Calabaza: Commonly grown in the Caribbean, tropical America, and the Philippines.
  • Dickinson pumpkin: Used by Libby’s for its canned pumpkin.
  • Giromon: A large, green cultivar grown primarily in the Caribbean.
  • Golden Cushaw: Similar in shape to the common Cucurbita argyrosperma “cushaw” type.
  • Loche: A landrace of squashes from Peru.
  • Long Island cheese pumpkin: Resembles a wheel of cheese.
  • Musquée de Provence (or Fairytale pumpkin): A large hybrid from France.
  • Naples long squash (Courge pleine de Naples): A large, long squash found in France and Italy.
  • São Paulo pumpkin (Abóbora paulista): Butternut-shaped with well-defined white and green stripes.
  • Seminole pumpkin: An heirloom variety originally cultivated by the Seminole people.
  • Tromboncino: A summer squash, also known as “Zucchetta”.

Cucurbita Argyrosperma ( Mixta)

An image of all different kinds of Cucurbita Argyrosperma ( Mixta)  heirloom squash varieties. Garden Faerie Botanicals. Heirloom Seeds Canada

Cucurbita argyrosperma, formerly known as Cucurbita mixta, is less commonly grown but offers unique varieties. An example is:

‘Cushaw Green Striped’: Known for its long, curved shape and light green stripes. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor.

Some specific varieties of Cucurbita mixta include:

  • Cushaw pumpkin (also known as Cushaw squash): This variety is pear-shaped with a striped skin that can be green, yellow, orange, or white.
  • Baby Bear: Noted for having “handles.”
  • Jack B. Little (JBL): This variety resembles a tiny orange pumpkin with a flat top.
  • We Be Little: A small variety suitable for pumpkin pie filling and baking.

Cucurbita mixta varieties are often used in crafts or as ornamental table decorations during fall holidays, and they come in a range of shapes and colors, adding to their decorative appeal.

Other Notable Varieties

In addition to these main species, there are other unique squash varieties worth exploring:

‘Luffa’ (Luffa aegyptiaca): Grown mainly for its fibrous tissue, which is used as a sponge, but young fruits are edible.

‘Bitter Melon’ (Momordica charantia): Technically a squash, known for its distinctive bitter flavor and used commonly in Asian cuisines.

‘Chayote’ (Sechium edule): A pear-shaped light green squash, used in a variety of dishes, known for its crisp texture.

In closing, our exploration of the Cucurbita genus has revealed a captivating array of squash species, each with its own unique characteristics and aesthetic appeal. From the distinctive varieties of Cucurbita argyrosperma to the robust forms of Cucurbita maxima, the versatile Cucurbita moschata, and the familiar Cucurbita pepo, we’ve uncovered the diversity and beauty inherent in these plants. The detailed descriptions and images provided offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of forms and colors that these species bring to our gardens and tables. This journey through the world of squashes celebrates the natural diversity and the myriad of possibilities they present.

I trust you will find some varieties that appeal to you and grow them during the coming season. I will see you in the garden!!

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