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.