The squash is a firm fleshy vegetable not used in this country nearly enough. It is in the gaud section of the cucumber family, which includes marrows, courgettes and pumpkins. They come in many shapes, flavours and colours. There are some wonderful recipes that can be made from squashes. As a vegetable it can be eaten raw in salads, it can be boiled, baked, fried, grilled and roasted. It has a delicate flavour so can be cooked with herbs to add variety.
Squash is an easy crop to grow and they are exciting too because of their rapid growth. There are two types, bush and trailing and there are those who are grown in the summer who's fruits are harvested when they are ready and the winter squashes that are allowed to grow until they are their full size, then harvested, stored in a dry, frost-free shed to be used when required. However, in this country growing them over winter can have its difficulties due to the fact that the squash is not hardy, so I think that if you decide to grow this vegetable it should be one of the summer varieties you should go for.
Squashes prefer heavier soils; they do best in positions where there is shelter from cold winds and they must have a sunny site. When preparing the ground, add plenty of manure and compost where the plants are to grow; this should be dug into the ground quite deeply about 9 in. (228mm). Begin by digging a trench 9 in. (228mm) deep put in the manure then dig another putting the soil from this into the first trench. This will form a ridge. The squashes can be planted into the ridges, 6 ft. (180cm) apart for the trailing varieties, 4 ft. (120cm) apart for the bush types.
For best results sow three-year-old seed, this will help ensure that the plants produce a greater proportion of female blooms. It is much better to buy your seed from a supplier rather than saving your own. This will ensure that they are virus free and also importantly that they come true. There are very few seeds in a packet but will be ample for most gardeners. Sow the seed during April in John Innes seed compost, 1 in. (25mm) deep, on their sides in 3 in. (76mm) pots in a greenhouse or warm windowsill at a temperature of about 50 deg. F. (10 deg C.). Put two seeds into the pot, the weaker one can be removed if they both germinate. Harden off the young plants by putting them into cold frames at the end of May. Plant them out after about two or three weeks along the ridges when the chance of frost has passed.
Water the pots well before planting out. Avoid holding the plants by their stems as they are easily bruised causing them irreparable damage. If the weather is cool cover each plant with a cloche for the first week to give them a little warmth and protection. As an individual plant protector I find one of the best methods is to use a cut down, clear plastic 5 litre mineral bottle, the top half of the bottle makes excellent cloche. Whilst giving protection at the same time it allows air and moisture through the neck of the bottle into the plant.
Trailing varieties should have the tip of the main shoot pinched back by an inch when they are 1 ½ ft. (45cm) long, this encourages the formation of side growth (laterals) on which the bulk of the female flowers will be borne. As the plants grow they will require extra manure and compost; this should be given as mulch around the base of each plant. For extra protection against the surface roots from drying out, grass clippings can also be used as mulch. Marrows require plenty of water so that they are able to grow and fully develop, soak the roots thoroughly and regularly. On the other hand, in very wet weather too much trailing leafy growth may result, in which case clip back the shoots to allow more air to circulate around the flowers and developing fruits. They are generally trouble free if the summer is a good one but slugs can sometimes be a problem; to be on the safe side position a few slug traps around the base of the plants
In a good summer, squashes can often be cut in late August; keep cutting them when they are young and the plants will continue cropping until well into September. If the intention is to store some for winter use, leave the fruits on the plant until October.
Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog http://www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at http://www.lawnsurgeon.com
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