GROWING ORGANIC SQUASH FROM SEED TO HARVEST Posted on 06 Mar 14:36 , 2 comments

SQUASH is a favorite among backyard vegetable gardeners.  It's easy to grow and usually produces more than enough to eat with plenty left over to share.

Last year we had a huge Zucchini Harvest!

What's the difference between Summer Squash and Winter Squash?
 The physical characteristics between summer and winter squash are stark. Summer squash tend to have very thin skins that are edible and easily damaged. The seeds of summer squash are present in the flesh and are edible raw. The flesh of the summer squash is very tender and very perishable. The skins of winter squash varieties are thick, inedible and tough. Winter squash have hollow cavities in the center where hard seeds are located. The flesh of the winter squash is very dense

Summer squash are usually harvested when the squash is immature.  Winter squash takes much longer to ripen. Winter squash is one of the last items to come out of the garden.  Summer Squash is usually ready to harvest in 50-80 days depending on the variety while Winter Squash usually takes 80-110 days. 

Preferred Growing Conditions
Vegetables tend to all like the same growing conditions: full sun, and well drained soil full of organic matter. Organic matter, organic matter, organic matter… Are you sick of hearing about it yet? Organic matter contributes to the health of the soil: gives soil nutrients, aerates soil for better root growth, helps soil retain moisture, while at the same times allows soil to drain better.

The easiest way to add organic matter is to just work a little compost into your soil. Get a composter and make your own by recycling kitchen and yard waste. Or, buy compost or a soil amendment will do the same thing. But, it’s cheaper just to go ahead and buy a compost bin (or recycle a large bin) and make your own.  Coconut Coir can be added to your garden soil for moisture retention.
 
How to Plant Squash Seeds
Plant extra SQUASH seeds to ensure a bountiful harvest.  It just takes a few plants to feed a family. Plant squash in a container, or a garden. Here’s how:
For planting squash in containers, make sure your pot is at least 12 inches wide, that’s about a 5 gallon pot. Pots will dry out fast. That will be your biggest container gardening obstacle. Consider using a fabric pot or a self watering planter, to help control the soil moisture level. 
Golden Crookneck (summer) Squash


Soaking Squash seeds can increase germination rates and speed up germination time.  We soak squash seeds for 24 hours in filtered water before planting.
Soil temperature should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant your squash seeds. Plant seeds ½ inches deep and six inches apart. Thin out after seedlings after they emerge, but will need at least two leaves to keep growing. Mature bush summer squash plants should be 20 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 feet apart. If growing a vine variety, planting in hills works well. Plant about 5 seeds per hill. After seedlings emerge and are established, thin to three plants. Stake or provide a trellis for vining varieties.

Seed starting in containers or Coconut Coir Pellets and then transplanting is a good idea with squash. You can start seeds indoors about four weeks prior to the last frost date. Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings, meaning slowly adjust them to the outdoor climate and sun.

SPAGHETTI (winter) SQUASH


Consider staggering you plantings of summer squash. Planting two weeks apart can keep you harvesting summer squash a little longer. And, don’t forget you get a lot of summer squash from one plant. I think that is why sometimes squash gets a bad wrap. It’s a great tasting vegetable, and easy to grow.  Since Winter Squash takes longer to grow, plan ahead and stagger Winter Squash planting.
Companion Plants for Squash
Beans, corn, cucumbers, icicle radishes, melon, mint, onions and pumpkin. Helpers: Borage deters worms, improves growth and flavor. Marigolds deters beetle. Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles.
Oregano provides general pest protection. Dill may repel the squash bug that will kill your squash vines. Generously scatter the dill leaves on your squash plants. Keep squash away from potatoes.

Maintaining Your Squash Plants
Consistent watering is key with squash. Mulch helps a lot with maintaining soil moisture. So, put a good layer of mulch down around summer squash plants. Provide a trellis for support for vining summer & winter squashes to grow.

You might need to assist with pollination. If you are growing just a few plants, you might have to help. Here’s how to do it, and no, you probably didn’t learn this in school. The first flowers that bloom are males. These appear about 40-50 days after planting. A week later the female flowers develop, which will produce the fruit after fertilized by the male flowers. So, to help: pick the first male blooms and brush them against the female bloom. This will help increase the output of summer squash.

TABLE QUEEN ACORN (winter) SQUASH

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
Use an organic fertilizer on summer & winter squash at the time of transplanting. Fertilize again, in about a month. Organic fertilizer is important. We need safe, healthy foods. But also, you don’t want to endanger any beneficial insect helping you with your pollination duties.
Harvesting Summer Squash
Harvest summer squash early. They will taste better when tender, and you’ll want to keep the fruit off the plant so it keeps producing. So, pick when the summer squash is about 2 inches in diameter, or 6-8 inches long. Pattypan squash is best when it reaches 3 inches in diameter, and is still a little pale. If your Pattypan squash gets a little larger, those are great to stuff. 

Harvesting Winter Squash
Fruits are ripe if you cannot easily pierce the rind with your fingernail. Never rush to harvest winter squash, though, because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Expect to harvest three to five squash per plant. Use pruning shears to cut fruits from the vine, leaving 1 inch of stem attached. Clean away dirt with a soft, damp cloth, and allow fruits to cure for two weeks in a spot that’s 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Store cured squash in a cool, dry place, such as your basement, a cool closet or even under your bed. Check every two weeks for signs of spoilage.

Squash Pests and Diseases
Don’t forget to check summer squash plants for pests often. Squash bugs will set in pretty quickly. They will be your biggest pest problems. Cucumber beetles like summer squash plants, too.

Use Food Grade Diatomaceaous Earth around the base of your squash plants early on to deter pests, especially squash vine borers.

Organic Neem oil is a great organic choice to get rid of these "munching" bugs.
Keep an eye out, too, for these pests and diseases: bacteria wilt, squash vine borers, aphids, mosaic virus, and mildew.

HELPFUL LINKS





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