Growing Squash and Preparing Your Harvest

Growing squash can be a breeze if you plant them in a sunny spot with rich soil and water moderately.

| December 2012

In The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) scientist and gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields—resilience science, climate change, sustainable agriculture and more. In this book you’ll learn how to garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change; grow, store and cook different varieties of her five “key crops”; and keep a home laying flock of ducks or chickens. Deppe didn’t just write this book, she lives the principles in it every day, and you can, too, with her expert advice. In this excerpt from chapter 10, “Squash and Pumpkins,” learn how growing squash is easy with the right conditions, and how to store and cure your squash harvest. 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.

Growing Squash and Pumpkins

Squash and pumpkins like rich soil, moderate amounts of water, and plenty of sun and warmth. They are capable of growing in pure compost, in fact. However, they aren’t as heavy feeders as corn. Most varieties do well enough with ordinary garden soil.

Squash succumb to the slightest freeze. So we plant squash or pumpkins after all danger of frost is past and the soil has warmed up. A traditional way to plant a few hills of squash is to work a shov­elful of manure or compost into each hill, then plant (or thin to) two or three plants around each hill. Nate and I don’t fertilize the hills specially, and have just one plant per hill. We space smaller plants at 4 feet apart in the rows, with our stan­dard 3 1/2’ spacing between rows. With big viney types, we space rows at 7 feet apart, and put the hills at 6 to 8 feet apart within in the row.

Many people these days start their squash and pumpkins from transplants rather than direct-seeding. I think this practice is partly responsible for ruining the big squash varieties. Plants of big viney varieties have big vigorous taproots that head for the center of the earth as soon as the seed germinates. When the seed is started in a pot, the taproot runs out of pot while the top of the seedling has barely broken the surface of the soil. The root is invariably damaged or broken off during transplanting. The result is that the slow­est-germinating, slowest-growing squash plants from each lot of seeds are the only ones that have an intact root system after transplanting. When you save seed from the “best” plants of a vigorous, big-vined variety after starting the plants in pots, you are actually automatically selecting for the plants that germinated or grew most slowly—that is, the wimpiest plants, not the best. Big viney plants started from transplants will never have a root system as vigorous as those started from direct-seeding. I recommend direct-seeding all big viney varieties.

When the variety is a bush or half-bush type, the seedling’s root system is a bush or half-bush form also. So while bush and half-bush varieties can be direct-seeded, they also lend themselves to starting in pots and transplanting. Most summer squash varieties are bush or half-bush types. The bushing pattern is associated with prolific flow­ering and refruiting, which is just what we want in summer squash. For summer squash varieties, start­ing seeds in pots in a greenhouse or under lights indoors can mean a summer-squash season that starts a month earlier.

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