Squashes are varied and fantastically versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Growing them in your garden can be a great idea and means you have hearty ingredients for dishes all through the colder months. So, how do you go about growing them?
The best time to sow
The ideal time to sow the seeds is early to mid-April, and this applies to all squashes or gourds that are in a heated greenhouse under glass.
When plants are sown at this time, they usually grow fast and they will have been well-established by the time you decide to plant them at the end of May. You can delay sowing until early May if there is a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. The plant is going to give you fruit, but it will not be as plentiful.
When sowing plants in the Cucurbitaceae family, it is a good idea to push the seeds edge-down into the compost. This will help in ensuring water runs down the sides and reduces the risk of your seed sitting in a wet pocket of composting which can result in rotting. You should try sowing it at about the same depth as the size of the seed.
Have a 9cm pot half-filled with soil-less multi-purpose compost then sow each seed into individual pots. When it starts growing, you can top up the pot using composed, and this will ensure the seedling gets more stability and it will also encourage the growth of roots.
When you have sown the seeds, water it using a fine hose. You can then place these pots into a heated propagator that has a temperature of between 15 to 18 degrees Celsius, or you can opt for a warm windowsill if you are sowing in April. During this time, the seedlings are going to germinate in a week or two. If you are sowing it in May inside a cool greenhouse, then you can expect it to take a little longer, typically 10 to 21 days.
Keeping a closer look at the plants as the roots fill the pot but before they become pot-bound, get them into a larger 13cm containers, and you should put them as deep as possible because it is going to encourage more stem roots.
The best place to grow squashes and gourds are on a sunny site with rich soil that has a lot of organic matter added. You should also make sure there is enough room because these plants produce trailing stems. Why not grow some gourds for Autumn crafting?
You should plant the plants 90cm-120cm apart if you are going to grow them across the ground. If you are going to use wires or over a framework so they grow vertically, you can space them 45-60cm apart because they will spread upwards.
To make sure every plant has rich fertile soil, then you should plant them in holes that are about 38-45cm wide and two spades deep for every planting season. Take some well-rotten farmyard manure and fill each hole with it. Home-made compost can also be used. Take the soil from the hole then put it on the top.
Make a hole and be very careful so you don’t end up damaging the plant. Each seedling should be about 2.5-5cm deep, and this will leave the two leaves above the surface. Use a bamboo cane to secure young plants and enable them to grow and avoid a kink on the stem. If you don’t do this, then it can slow down the growth of the plant, or even collapse and die.
If the place you have your garden in is an exposed site, then you can erect polythene that will act as a windbreaker for your plants. You can also use green netting.
Watering and feeding
You need to water your squashes and gourds because they love water. Take an old plastic bottle then cut the top off. Push it into the ground at the side of every plant. Pour water inside these water bottles so they can then release the water into the roots of the plants.
You should ensure your plants are well-watered while it is still settling in. When the plants start producing bigger leaves and flowers, feed them twice every week using high-potash food like proprietary tomato fertilizer at half strength. If the plants are carrying a lot of fruit, you will have to switch to feed rich in nitrogen once every two weeks.
If you used wires of frames method to grow the plants, you should make sure your plants are moist at the roots. You will need to support and ty the stems regularly to make sure it will be able to take the weight of the fruits.
You can harvest the summer squashes when they get large enough to eat, this is 6-8 weeks after planting. To get the best flavors, use them within a couple of days after cutting.
Winter squashes should be harvested before the first frosts. You will look at the intensity of the color of the skin. If heavy frosts have been forecast, pick all fruits.
You can harvest gourds in the autumn when they have matured, but make sure you do it before they have been damaged by the frosts. To know whether it is time to harvest, look at the skin and see if it is firm. The color should also be at their most intense.
To finish the ripening process, store it in a greenhouse or warm room for about two to three weeks. After you are done doing this, move it to a cool garage or shed that has a minimum temperature of 5-10c. To make the skins dry evenly, allow a lot of air movement.