Growing Squash and PumpkinsPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg
There’s been a serious outbreak of squash planting on my allotment site in the past few days. Patches of previously bare soil are now dotted with newly-planted squash and pumpkins, those in the know having created mounds of rich compost in which to set their precious plants. You may have read my short piece about cucurbits in general a few weeks ago, but thought I’d expand on squash in particular as now is the time to sow them ready for a late autumn harvest and the prospect of delicious winter food.
Growing squash and pumpkins is fun. Once in the soil, the plants develop rapidly, sprawling over the ground, their large leaves doing their best to conceal the swelling fruit which lies beneath. Squash come in a wide range of varieties - from household names like ‘Butternut’ to the marvellous ‘Turk’s Turban’, the perfect description of the ripe fruit. They are all delicious when cooked – wonderful comfort food for cold winter days. And some grow to vast sizes…too heavy to be transported by wheelbarrow!
Now’s the time to plant
Sunny days are here and the soil is warm – ideal conditions for sowing squash and pumpkins, as task easily managed by children as each seed is big enough to be handled by little fingers. Squash seed germinates readily in warm soil, but the tiny plants are greedy little things so make sure you dig in plenty of manure or similar ‘muck’ before sowing and then water well. I read once that the secret of growing massive pumpkins – the type that break records (currently a staggering 605kg, heavier than a polar bear!) – is to dig a big hole and bury a bale of barley straw beneath the spot where the plant is to grow. As the straw rots, the resulting warmth boosts the plant’s growth as its roots seek out the rich nutrients.
Young squash plants are easily damaged if temperatures fall overnight so keep a wary eye on the weather forecast and cover plants with fleece if necessary. If you have already raised your plants indoors, don’t forget to harden them off before planting out. This simply means acclimatising the plants to the great outdoors for a few days but remembering to return them to a sheltered sport at night.
How to grow
Each plant needs its own mound of well-fertilised soil which will warm in the sun and provide gentle heat for the roots. If you are starting now with seeds, sow about four of five at the top of each mound and make sure the soil remains moist by watering each day until the seeds germinate – usually in about 10 days. As the plants grow, gradually thin the weakest out to leave one large, healthy specimen. Squash need plenty of space so allow at least a 6’ between each hill if you intend growing several plants, either of one or different varieties. In warm weather, with careful watering and feeding, growth can be spectacular with the ‘vines’ spreading many feet. To make sure that you get a good crop of fruit, follow the instructions on the seed packet which should explain when to pinch out each vine to ensure you get a few large fruit. Don’t forget to weed and feed each plant on a regular basis. I make a potassium-rich liquid feed from rotted down Comfrey leaves and use this in diluted form to help the flowers set and fruits swell.
Varieties to try
‘Crown Prince’ is a classic winter variety with green skin and bright orange flesh and if you want to grow your own Butternut Squash, try ‘Harrier F1’. To grow pumpkin for Hallowe’en, try ‘Snowman’. If you are determined to break records, sow ‘Atlantic Giant’.