Planting and Growing Squash Planting and Growing Squash
Squash plants are available in many sizes and varieties, and are popular in home gardening because they are easy to grow, and are highly productive and nutritious. Depending on the available space in your backyard, you can grow summer squash that requires lesser space or winter squash that grows in vines and require more area for growth.
Squash requires slightly acidic soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. These plants do not do well in the cold, so you must ensure that the temperature is over 15º C before you sow the seeds. You can start seedlings indoors a couple of weeks before the last frost. Before transplanting seedlings or sowing the seeds, prepare the ground in advance, by adding all-purpose fertilizer or mature compost to the soil, and tilling it to a depth of about 1 foot.
Sow the seeds in a sunny location that has not been used for growing plants of the cucurbita family. Doing so will reduce the risk of several soil-borne diseases that may otherwise afflict your plants. Sow 4 to 5 seeds in small mounds of soil-compost mix, about an inch deep. Cover the seeds with the same mixture. The mounds must be spaced about 3 feet apart for the bush type summer varieties, and 5 feet apart for the vine type winter squashes. When the seedlings emerge, thin them out and retain the strongest one in each mound.
If starting seedlings indoors, use a peat-based potting mix to sow the seeds. When the seedlings emerge, discard the thinner, weaker ones. Plant the seedlings outdoors, preferably in the evening. To minimize transplant shock, water well and provide with temporary shade. Mulch the plants with organic mulch, straw, or hay to reduce weed growth and improve moisture retention. Mulching with compost is also beneficial, and it will serve the second purpose of feeding the plant.
Squash plants require plenty of nutrition. They are voracious feeders, and do well when fertilized at regular intervals. In addition to incorporating fertilizers at the time of planting, add a side dressing of fertilizer every month, during the growing season. Make sure you keep the fertilizer away from the plant roots. Regular fertilizing in appropriate quantities will make the fruits larger and better tasting.
Squash requires regular watering, and you must ensure that the soil is not allowed to dry out. On the other hand, over-watering can cause serious problems like root rot, and can even kill the plant. The soil must be well-drained to prevent waterlogging. Water well whenever the soil shows signs of beginning to dry. Avoid wetting the foliage.
Summer squash varieties are ready for harvest in about 7 weeks. You can also harvest these squashes when they are small and try out the “baby” varieties. Winter squash requires about double this time, and is ready for harvesting when the rind is tough. You can store winter varieties for a few months in a cool area. Use a sharp knife when harvesting.