Growing squashes

selection of squashes from the plot

To my mind nothing is more pleasurable than successfully growing squashes.Squashes are relatively easy to grow, they pretty much all require the same things so I’ll bunch all of the following together;

  • Courgettes
  • Marrows
  • Pumpkins
  • Butternuts
  • Cucumbers
  • Patty pans

 Growing squashes

Plant squash seeds in compost and start off about six weeks before last expected frosts where I am (Essex) this is usually late March. I grow one seed in a small pot then pot on as they develop usually I have to pot on three times before it is time to plant outside and the plants are usually quite well established which gives them a good chance of not being destroyed by slugs and snails. You’ll be surprised at how quickly squash plants grow.

When growing squashes I start mine off in a unheated greenhouse and then introduce them to the outside gradually by placing the pots outside during the day and putting them back in the greenhouse at night this process is called “hardening off”.  Then after about a week of this I transfer them to their growing site.

I prepare the soil by digging a hole about six inches deep and putting a layer of well rotted manure in the bottom then a layer of soil then plant the plant, and place a length of pipe next to the plant to water accurately. Water in well and once the first flowers appear feed weekly with comfrey tea.

The squash plant produces two different flowers male and female. Whilst the plant is getting established it will produce only male flowers these are just flowers. Once the plant is comfortable it will produce female flowers these have a mini fruit of whatever squash it is behind the flower( once you’ve seen this it becomes obvious). The female flower needs to be pollinated by the male flower and if you are not sure of having enough help from insects you can pollinate yourself using a small water colour paint brush, gently rub the brush inside the male flower then gently rub inside the female flower. You will know if the pollination has been successful as the mini squash will grow and the flower that’s in front of it will drop off. Once the squash is as large as you require it just pick (with larger fruits I cut the stalk with a knife) and either use as in the case of courgettes and similar or store somewhere warm to harden the skin for winter squashes like pumpkins.

growing squashes

crown prince

Squashes are always referred to as greedy plants but when you think about it they have a short growing season (between last frosts in spring and the following frosts come autumn). So they need a lot of food and water to produce an abundance of fruit either more courgettes and patty pans than you can cope with or large pumpkins big enough for Cinderella to go to the ball in.

A Word About Spacing

Squashes need quite a lot of space to grow so allow at least three foot between winter squashes. I also plant my squashes  in a sequence of winter squash / summer squash. This is because summer squashes stay relatively compact and winter squashes tend to spread much further. So by alternating them I can fit more squashes into a smaller area.

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