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How to grow organic Squash
by Frann Leach
Pumpkins are great for Halloween
Squash (Courgettes, Zucchini, Marrow, Pumpkin etc.)
Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata
Family: Cucurbitaceae (Group 5)
Halloween wouldn't be the same without a spooky halloween lantern. But pumpkins are just one of the incredible variety of types of squash you can grow. There are small summer squashes, courgettes (zucchini), patty pans and so on, and huge winter types like the pumpkin and marrow, and many sizes, shapes and colours in between. Organic squashes are fairly easy to grow as long as you start them off right and make sure they get enough water during the fruiting season.
Squashes are divided into Summer and Winter types. Summer squash refers to types that are best eaten fresh, Winter squash those which are grown to maturity and stored for Winter use. Summer types include courgettes (zucchini), patty pan or custard marrow types and crookneck squashes. Winter types include marrows, pumpkins and spaghetti squash.
|Marrow||All Green Bush, Zebra Cross F1 (bush), Long Green Trailing
Cucumber Mosaic resistant varieties: Badger Cross, Tiger Cross
|Courgette||Early Gem F1, Zucchini, Rondo de Nice (round), Gold Rush (yellow), Taxi F1 (yellow).
Cucumber Mosaic resistant varieties: Defender, Supremo, Tarmino
|Pumpkin||Jack be Little (10cm/4"), Atlantic Giant|
|Summer squash||Butternut, Crookneck, Crown Prince F1, Custard White (patty pan), Tender & True|
|Winter squash||Hubbard's Golden, Vegetable Spaghetti, Table Ace, Sweet Dumpling|
Open, sunny site; very rich moisture-retaining, but well drained soil.
Dig a hole 30cm (12") deep by 45cm (18") across, fill with well rotted compost or manure, and cover with 15-20cm (6-8") of soil to make a raised mound.
Sow indoors in late April to early May at a minimum temperature of 56ªF (13ªC) in pots or modules to minimise root disturbance, 3-4 weeks before the last expected frost. Sow on their sides, 25mm (1") deep. Harden off and transplant mid-late May, depending on area.
Alternatively, in warmer areas, sow 2-3 seeds per station under cloches or individual jam jars (these are not as good as they sound, as the soil sticks to the jars, so when you lift them off you disturb the roots, which is what you are trying to avoid - NOT RECOMMENDED) from mid to late May in situ, thin to one plant per station.
Mark centre of plants with canes to make watering easier. For trailers, either provide strong supports or make sure you have a supply of wire or wooden pegs available to train the plants in a circle.
Planting distances: Bush types 1m (3'), Trailers 120cm (4'), Large types 2m (6'). Bush types also do well in large containers (put some water crystals into the soil in the containers, to help prevent drying out).
Water regularly, up to 10 litres (2 gallons) per plant per week, especially in dry weather and when the plants are in crop. Mulch well. Supplementary feeding will be needed on poor soil and for plants in containers. The best liquid feed is comfrey liquid or diluted bought-in comfrey liquid feed. If you cannot get comfrey, use organic tomato fertiliser or seaweed fertiliser. Plants in containers will need to be watered with liquid feed twice a week while in flower or fruiting, plants in the ground will probably only need to be fed once a week.
If you want to produce large pumpkins for Halloween or exhibition, nip off flowers to restrict production to 2-3 fruits per plant (or a single fruit for giant specimens). Pinch out the growing point towards the end of Summer.
Summer squash should be picked regularly to encourage production, from July to September. Although they are usually regarded as a Winter squash, marrows can be picked from about 15cm (6") long, leaving just a few to ripen for storage. Winter squash should be left to ripen on the plant. Remove any foliage which shades them at the end of Summer. When the stems start to dry and the skins harden, cut fruits for storage with as long a stalk as possible. Cut before frost, as frosted fruits will not store. Cure in the sun for 10 days, covering at night if frost threatens. Acorn types need not be cured before storage. Winter squash, properly prepared, will store for 4-6 months in cool, dry, frost-free conditions. They can be placed on racks or suspended in nets. Cover with sacking if very hard frost is expected.
Pests and diseases
Slugs may attack young plants; they are unlikely to do severe damage.
Cucumber mosaic virus can be serious in some seasons; remove and burn affected plants.
Withering fruit, starting at the blossom end, sometimes occurs, usually as a result of poor growing conditions. Check for stem or root rot (remove and burn affected plants); if clear, remove all fruit, water carefully and apply a liquid feed such as seaweed fertiliser. The plant should recover and start fruiting normally again.