Grow­ing squashes

Gardeners' World - - Monty’s Garden -

I sow all my cu­cur­bits – squashes, pumpkins, cour­gettes, cu­cum­bers and oc­ca­sion­ally gourds – in the green­house in mid-April and plant them out in early June when the nights start to warm up. Temperatures below 15°C stop them in their tracks and that is when slugs and snails at­tack the stems, al­though they only cause real harm when the plants are not ac­tively grow­ing. This is usually in the first few cold weeks af­ter plant­ing out too early. Last year, the warm weather in June and July meant they were grow­ing strongly by the time we had our rel­a­tively mis­er­able weather in late sum­mer. All squashes need lots of good­ness, lots of wa­ter and lots of sun. The first two com­modi­ties are non-ne­go­tiable, but I ac­cept that sun is be­yond even the keen­est gar­dener’s con­trol! I al­ways dig a pit and back­fill it with com­post, us­ing the ex­cess soil to cre­ate a kind of ram­part around the saucer-shaped plant­ing hole. This means I can cre­ate a mini-lake when I wa­ter them – which should be done gen­er­ously at least weekly, what­ever the weather. A vig­or­ous squash plant of any type takes up a lot of space. Last year I solved that prob­lem by grow­ing them ver­ti­cally, sup­ported by a tri­pod of stout posts, rather than hor­i­zon­tally on the ground. But the sup­port has to be re­ally ro­bust, as the com­bi­na­tion of lots of growth and a few large pumpkins will bring a struc­ture made from mere bam­boo canes crash­ing down. It also makes sense to choose smaller va­ri­eties like ‘Jack Be Lit­tle’ or some of the Ja­panese squashes, so they present less of a bur­den. Late sum­mer sun­shine is needed for the skins to ripen prop­erly. This is im­por­tant if you want to store your squashes over win­ter, as the harder the skin, the longer they last. Two things help this process. The first is to re­move all fo­liage once it starts to shrivel, so that the fruits have full ac­cess to the sun. The sec­ond is to lay all your squashes out on a flat roof or table­top out­side in the sun – but make sure it’s some­where where you can cover them with fleece if it turns frosty. Then, af­ter a week or so, bring them all in­doors and store them some­where cool and dark.

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