If you’re looking to add a new dimension to your Asian cooking, growing Chinese Squash at home could be for you!
With this guide, you’ll learn how to grow a variety of delicious Asian pumpkins and squashes.
So, read on to discover our top tricks for a bountiful harvest!
What is Chinese squash?
Chinese squash is a term used to refer to several varieties of Asian squash, pumpkin, and melon. Most of them are indeed native to China, but also Southeast Asia and even India.
They are vining plants that produce fruit of different sizes, shapes, and tastes. Yet, despite their differences, they all make a tasty and nutritious addition to any dish.
It hails from tropical and subtropical climates. Chinese squash is easy to grow in many regions of the world. Given its diversity, it is a popular addition to many gardens, and we’re sure that there’s at least one variety that’s perfect for you. Read on to discover more.
Chinese squash varieties
Are you thinking about growing Chinese squash in your garden? There are many varieties to choose from, each with its unique taste and appearance.
Here are a few types that we recommend trying out.
1. Chinese fuzzy squash
Also known as Mo Qua or Mo Gwa, the Chinese fuzzy squash is a variety of winter gourd. It looks very similar to zucchini but covered with a light fuzz. Its taste is mild and slightly sweet, with a white, crunchy texture. It has similar growing conditions to other squashes and can be enjoyed the same way as zucchini. Just be sure to rub off the fuzz covering the skin before eating it.
2. Chinese long squash
Chinese long squash, also known as Opo squash, is an Asian squash variety native to China and Southeast Asia. The fruit is usually 10 to 15 inches in length (25 to 38 cm), with an oblong shape and vivid, bright green skin. Its taste is mild and pleasant and has been compared to a mix between cucumber and summer squash. You can use it in cooking the same way as zucchini or even enjoy it raw.
3. Chinese winter squash
The Chinese winter squash is a large Chinese squash variety, popular in both China and Japan. The large fruit has a thick, dark green skin, with a waxy feel covered in small prickly hairs when young. The flesh is white, with a crunchy texture.
Chinese winter squash has a pleasant aroma and a taste that’s a bit saltier than other Asian squash varieties. As a result, it’s best enjoyed in savory dishes, such as stews and soups, or even creamy recipes similar to mashed potatoes.
4. Chinese okra squash
Also known as the Chinese silk squash, this variety of gourd is not related to okra. The two vegetables may look similar, with their elongated shape and dark skin covered in ridges.
However, the Chinese okra squash is smaller, bearing fruit ranging between 6 and 12 inches long (15 to 30 cm). It also has a milder aroma, without the bitterness often found in okra. This vegetable can be enjoyed raw or cooked, especially in Asian-style dishes.
Another common name for the Chinese okra squash is Angled Luffa (Luffa acutangula). As the name suggests, mature fruit can be allowed to dry out, and then you can use it to make sponges.
How to grow Chinese squash
Let’s take a closer look.
– When to plant
Chinese squash is a warm-season crop. On average, you should plant it outdoors when temperatures are consistently above 60 °F (15 °C). Otherwise, it will be damaged by the cold. You can sow Chinese squash seeds in your garden from mid-spring or get them started two to three weeks indoors in advance.
If you’re germinating the seeds indoors, we recommend soaking them in lukewarm water for at least 8 hours. For large seeds, you can gently crack them at the ends to increase the germination speed.
Plant the seeds in compostable seedling pots. Keep the pots in a warm room, with temperatures between 64 °F and 80 °F (18 °C to 27 °C), and keep the soil moist but not soaked. The seeds should take 7 to 10 days to germinate. Once each seedling has at least two sets of fully developed leaves, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors.
– Growing outdoors
You should plant all Chinese squash varieties in a part of your garden that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. The ideal temperature range for them is between 70 °F and 86 °F (21 °C to 30 °C).
Plant your Chinese squash in a nutrient-rich soil mix, well-draining and with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.0. Dig the soil to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm), and use plenty of compost to give the young plants a nutrient boost.
2. Temperature and spacing
Seeds and young plants that have been germinated indoors can be planted outside once there’s no risk of temperatures dropping below 60 °F (15 °C). Plant them about 2 feet (60 cm) apart, in rows that are spaced out at least 3 feet (90 cm).
Most Chinese squash varieties are vining plants, so you will need to provide them with a form of support. Set up some trellises in place soon after planting these gourds. They are fast growers and will start climbing them in no time, so it’s best to have support ready in advance.
Keep the soil for your Chinese squash well-watered, and add mulch to the plants’ base to help retain moisture. Avoid letting the soil dry out, especially once you notice that fruit is beginning to form. Suppose your squashes are receiving too little water during the fruiting stage. In that case, the gourds will be small and underdeveloped, with a noticeably bitter taste.
Throughout summer, apply an organic, liquid fertilizer solution once a month. Use a rich in phosphorus fertilizer, as this will encourage abundant flowering and fruiting later on. Nitrogen is another essential nutrient that this plant needs, aiding in healthy leaf and vine growth.
The key to a successful Chinese squash harvest is making sure that the flowers are pollinated. Although natural pollinators such as bees and butterflies can take care of this, we usually recommend manual pollination for a higher success rate.
Chinese squash plants produce separate male and female blossoms. You can identify the female flowers by the small lump on the stem, which will become the fruit after fecundation. To manually pollinate these gourds, snip the male flowers and gently rub them against the female ones to transfer the pollen.
It’s best to manually pollinate your Chinese squash blossoms when the flowers are fully open. For most varieties, this happens early in the morning. But in the case of Chinese okra squash, you will need to wait until the evening.
Each variety of Chinese squash takes a different length of time to ripen. As a result, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to when you should harvest them.
To make things easier, here’s a simple guide that you can use to determine whether your squash fruit is ready to be picked:
- Chinese fuzzy squash: the plant should reach maturity 90 days after sowing. Harvest the fruit when young, as early as one week after it has started forming. You should cover the fruit in a light fuzz, with a bright green color, and about 6 to 10 inches long (15 to 25 cm).
- Chinese long squash: Opo squash reaches maturity in about 75 days. The fruit can grow over 2 feet (60 cm) long, but they are best harvested young. Otherwise, they develop an unpleasant taste and texture. To test that the fruit is not too ripe, test the skin: if it’s too thick to leave a mark with your fingernail, then it’s too old.
- Chinese winter squash: like all winter melons, this plant can take up to 110 days to reach maturity, depending on the cultivar. The easiest way to tell whether the fruit is ripe is when the stem has started turning brown and the skin has a waxy feel. Once harvested, it can be stored in a cool, dry place for at least six months.
- Chinese okra squash: this fast-growing squash can be ready for harvest as early as 65 days after sowing. Pick the fruit when it’s still young, usually between 1 and 2 weeks after pollination. The fruit should be between 6 and 12 inches long (15 to 30 cm), with dark skin and a firm texture.
All Chinese squash varieties are annual plants. They do not tolerate frost, so if you live in an area with cold winters, you will need to plant a new crop the following year. When the harvesting season is over, cut down the vines and add them to your compost bin.
Chinese squash comes in many shapes and sizes, making an exciting addition to your garden and your plate! Whichever kinds you choose, if you follow this guide, you can be sure of a plentiful harvest.
Let’s go over the basics:
- All Chinese squash varieties are warm-season crops and should only be planted outside once temperatures are above 60 °F (15 °C);
- You can get a head start by germinating your squash inside first — soak the seeds for best results;
- A phosphorus-rich fertilizer and manual pollination are the secrets to a bountiful harvest!
So, now all you need to do is pick your favorite, grab a pack of seeds, and get sowing!
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