Friday, 8 July 2016

News From GIY Ireland - Squash

Squash

Weekly Column- Squash #27 2016
Published: Jul 07, 2016    By: Shona Dubois
Most Irish people have never tasted any squash other than the ubiquitous butternut – don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine variety but there are literally dozens of others you can try when you grow them yourselves.   My own personal favourite is the wonderful giant Crown Prince squash which has an eerie blue skin and the sweetest orange flesh inside.
They are a fantastic veg to grow because they will store well through the winter thanks to their thick skins.  Ideal for soups, stews or roasts, there is nothing better than hacking open a squash in the bleak mid-winter to reveal the beautiful orange flesh beneath.
Sowing
To grow from seed you will need to sow in early May individually in 7cm pots.  Sow about 2cm deep. The pots will need to be kept on a heating mat or a sunny windowsill.  Transplant them to larger 12 or 15cm pots after about 3 weeks.  Leave the pots indoors or in a greenhouse or polytunnel.   It is too late at this time of the year to sow them from seed, but you could still buy a squash plant from a garden centre and grow it yourself at home.
Growing
Make sure the soil where you are going to grow your squashes has had a decent application of well rotted farmyard manure or compost.  Harden off the plants well and then plant out in early to mid June.  Cover with fleece if it’s cold at nights.  Space the plants 2m apart (or 1m apart for bush-varieties) – this seems a lot, but once these babies get moving, there will be no stopping them.  They can take over a veg patch, sending shoots here there and everywhere.  So probably not a great idea for a small garden.  You can keep them in check by gently pinning or pegging down the shoots.
You could grow them in a large pot also but because they are a hungry and thirsty plant, you will need to make sure to keep them well supplied with food and water.  Make sure to start off with a good mix of topsoil and well rotted manure or compost (all of which you can now buy in bags from good garden centres) and once the plant is established feed every 10 days with a good quality organic liquid feed (suitable for fruiting plants).
Harvesting
Depends on whether you are growing summer or autumn squashes.  The summer squashes benefit from regular harvesting – the more you harvest the more prolific the plant will be.  Harvest winter squash in October when the leaves die back or before if there’s a risk of frost.  Cut off the squash from the plant leaving the stalk attached to it.  If they need to be ripened further put them out in the sun by day, before bringing them in again by night – do this for a week or so.  Or leave them on a sunny windowsill to ‘cure’ – this is where the skin hardens up which means they will store for longer. Squashes will store right through the winter.
Recommended Varieties
Summer Squash: Sunburst F1
Autumn Squash: Butternut, Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Turk’s Turban, Uchiki Kuri.
Problems
A key issue with squashes can be failure to set fruit in cold, wet summers.   You can help them along by hand pollinating – if this sounds very David Bellamy, don’t worry, it’s actually quite straight-forward.  You are simply transferring the pollen from the male to the female flower using a soft brush.  You can identify which is which by looking at the flower stalk - the male stalk is plain while the female flowers have a small fruit on the stalk.
GIY Tips
• Grow them somewhere sheltered – they don’t like wind.
• Protect young plants from slugs in early stages.

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