Sunday, 24 August 2014

HOW TO GROW SQUASH

Squashes belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, gourds, cucumber and melon.  Plants bear palmately lobed, alternate, and simple leaves and have spiraling tendrils. They have yellow flowers and their fruits are specialized berries called pepos, which can grow very large. 

It is useful to differentiate between summer and winter squash.  The summer types are fast maturing, have soft rinds, are consumed when the fruit is immature, and are quite perishable. They include yellow squash, Courgette and scallop squash. 

On the other hand, the winter squash like butternut squash  take longer to mature, one hundred days versus fifty days, have a long storage life, several months versus two weeks, are consumed when the fruits and seeds are fully mature, and have durable rinds

Hubbard squash and  buttercup squash belong to the C.maxima species. The cushaw squash belongs to C.mixta, whilst the butternut squash belongs to C.moschata.  Acorn squash and summer squash belong to the C.pepo species.

Growing squash from seed

Squash are relatively easy to grow from seed and can be planted direct into the soil between April and June.  However the plants can grow very large so ensure that you have enough room in your bed to accommodate them. Bush summer squashes and courgettes should be planted  90 cm / 3 ft apart for , marrows 1.2 m / 4 ft apart and trailing squashes 1.5 m / 5 ft apart. 

Prepare the seed bed by digging planting holes at regular intervals two weeks before sowing. Fill with a mixture of compost and soil and incorporate a general fertiliser.  Sow a single seed into each planting pocket.

Alternatively you can grow squashes successfully in large containers or grow bags. Plan a single plant in each container, or two in a grow bag.

You wish wish to get a head start on the season and choose to  start off your seedlings indoors. Sow your seeds into a 11 cm pot filled with compost. Plant these seedlings out in June after you have hardened them off. 

Maintenance

Squashes are thirsty plants so water well to ensure that the soil is kept constantly moist. However the neck of the plant can rot if water sits around the top of the plant.  You can sink a 15 cm / 6 " pot alongside  the plant and water into this to ensure that water reaches the roots. 

Squashes are hungry too so feed every 2 weeks with a liquid fertiliser once the fruits have started to swell.  Harvest summer squashes when the fruit is still quite small.  For winter squashes allow the fruit to mature on the plant and remove the fruit just prior to the first frost.

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