Squash plants are closely related to cucumbers, courgettes and marrows, and are a member of the same family, curcubit. Squash plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and include butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins.
Squashes generally have a rich, orange flesh, but their outer skins can range from pale cream to darkest green. Squashes can be subdivided into two categories: summer squash and winter squash. Winter squash are ready to harvest from mid-late autumn and are ideal for storing to use over the winter months.
All squash plants are grown in the same way, requiring a lot of space and nutrients. Set aside a generous portion of your plot to grow them in and add plenty of organic matter, such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure. This will provide them with sufficient nutrients to see them through their long growing season.
Sowing Squash Seeds
Squash plants need a moisture-retentive, fertile soil preferably in a warm, sunny position. Sow two seeds on their sides per station, 2.5cm deep outdoors in late May or early June, or raise them in pots on a warm windowsill or in a greenhouse, from March. If both seeds germinate, remove the weaker one.
When all risk of frost has passed and the plants have at least four ‘true’ leaves, transplant them into their final growing positions. Squash plants benefit from the same growing conditions and nutrient-hungry courgettes and marrows, so create planting pockets for them, around 30cm square and deep and filled with homemade compost and well-rotted manure, and topped off with soil.
Create a low mound at the top of the pocket, and dig a planting hole to place the young plant in. Water the plants well and keep the area free from weeds. It’s also a good idea to sink a 15cm pot into the soil next to the plant. By watering into the pot you will direct water straight to the roots, where it is needed.
When the plant’s main shoots have grown to 60cm long, trim them back so the plant’s energy is concentrated on producing flowers and fruit, rather than masses of foliage.
Encourage pollinators, such as bees to the area by planting native wildflowers (foxgloves, sunflowers and echinacea) near your vegetable plot. When the bees gather nectar and pollen from the wildflowers, they will also stop by and pollinate your vegetable blooms, which lead to more fruit setting, increasing your yield.
Soil-borne pests or fungal diseases can damage the tender fruits, so support them by lifting them off the ground, using bricks, tiles, or even polythene.
Harvest summer squashes when the fruits are still small, ensuring they are more flavoursome. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or secateurs and snip the stem, avoiding wounding it, which can let in infection.
For pumpkins and winter squashes intended for storing over winter, allow the fruit to fully mature on the plant and then harvest it when the foliage has died down, making sure you have harvested them before the first frost.