Best practices: Growing great squash and pumpkins

We’ve all either heard of or experienced the horror of the doorbell ringing late at night, but when you open the door there’s nobody around, there’s just a box overflowing with unwanted and unloved zucchini. LOL

Not everyone has that effect on their zucchini and squash plants. We’ve had both good and bad squash seasons here at the farm, some of the bad seasons were usually weather or insect related. Some were due to our own negligence. Over time and by quizzing the folks who always seemed to have bumper crops of squash, we learned what works best “most of the time.”

Manure and compost are critically important when preparing the soil for zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and melons. They’re what is referred to as “Gross Feeders.” They’re hungry little rascals and the better your soil fertility, the better they will produce for you! Squash require elbow room to grow to their full potential. We plant our summer/zucchini type squash transplants about 4 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Generally we plant them on plastic mulch with a 1/2″ drip line under the plastic mulch. Mulch is critical in suppressing weed competition.

After fertility is soil moisture content. These babies grow very quickly and with a single-minded purposefulness. They need above average moisture available to them, here at the farm we drip water them. Drip watering helps prevent the spread of leaf diseases such as the evil “Powdery Mildew.” That nasty foul-smelling dried skim milk looking fungal disease on the leaves and stems. Prevention is the key. We grow organically so we use a preventative spray of “ZeroTol.” Hydrogen Dioxide, a cousin of hydrogen peroxide, but a lot stronger. We strongly suggest using some kind of foliar fungal spray starting as soon as 1-2 weeks after transplant and every week thereafter. Once the mildew establishes itself, it’s all over but the screaming as they say.

Bugs! The two most troublesome insects for the squash family are the Striped Cucumber Beetle and the Squash/Stink Bug. These two insects helped age me at least 5 years over the decades. Squash vine borer is another little devil which can decimate squash crops. Vigilance is the only defense. You need to familiarize yourself with these heathen creatures and show NO MERCY in eradicating them. They not only eat the plants and fruit, but their filthy little mouths spread deadly squash viruses in their saliva. As I’ve stated, we grow organic and the products we use are environmentally safer but are also more expensive, so whatever you choose to use to combat them… Take no prisoners! However… There are no BAD BUGS, only bugs that are doing what they evolved to do, which is to consume plants. Just like the Lion isn’t bad when he eats a Gazelle, its his job to be a Lion and the Gazelle is just the prey species. Eh…

Size… I remember as a kid, 12 or 13 years old, (Lodi, Ohio) walking through a neighbors back yard (shortcut) and seeing a HUMONGOUS zucchini in the neighbor woman’s garden. It was well over 3 feet long and 6-7″ in diameter. The next day I knocked on her door and pointed out to her the giant squash she had in her garden. It turned out that she was well aware of it and was planning to stuff and bake it. That culinary concept was foreign to my French heritage, but when I tasted it the following week it was delicious. We generally recommend picking at about 7-12″ depending on the squash variety. The only exception is the Italian Heirloom squash Tromboncino Rampancetta, or the “Rampaging Trombone.” LOL These babies aren’t for the faint of heart, they are a Vining type and the vines can get well over 20 feet in length. We trellis ours, the blossoms (which remind me of creamy/white gourd blossoms) don’t even open on these until the baby squash are between 12 and 18″, they can get over 5 feet long and can be stored as a winter squash once mature. The flavor is just amazing.

Top recommendations: Ample compost or manure to boost soil fertility. Ample moisture but don’t drown em. Give them plenty of room to grow. Mulch to limit moisture loss and suppress weeds. Watch for first signs of insect trouble and show no mercy in combating them critters. Learn to recognize and how to prevent powdery mildew. Harvest often and when fruits are small for continued production. Trellis vining types of zucchini.

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