Sunday, June 15, 2014

Squash & Why My Neighbours Can Leave Their Car Doors Unlocked - Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about my toughest issue when it comes to growing even a modest amount of squash, the squash vine borer (SVB).  Last year, by using Growing Degree Days, I was able to thwart the SVB by covering my plants until the moths were finished laying their eggs. I was so excited when the covers came off in July and my plants showed no signs of infestation.  Unfortunately, the mountain of squash I was hoping for never materialized.

Squash Issue # 2 – Powdery Mildew

I used netting to cover the squash in order to avoid being subjected to the SVB.  I had some mosquito netting lying around, so I simply used that.  When I uncovered the squash, I noticed a bit of powdery mildew (PM) on one of the plants.  At that point I realized that the mosquito netting had not been a good choice as it was a bit thick and seemed to hold onto moisture for long periods of time.  Also, the netting kept sagging & lying right on top of the leaves because I used a makeshift support made from bamboo stakes (I had not yet decided on the type of support I was going to be using for such things as row covers and netting).

Being in Southern Ontario, our summers are usually hot & humid.  This, coupled with heavy netting that lay on the leaves & kept them wet for long periods of time, made for an attractive environment for powdery mildew spores.  At first, it was only evident on one variety I was growing, “Sure Thing”.  A couple of the leaves had PM, so I cut these off.  This did slow down its progress, but didn’t stop it.  And then, of course, it spread to the other squash plants as well.

The fact that I planted the squash too closely together also didn’t help matters – I was always confused when I would read to plant squash in “hills” of 3 or 4 plants with this huge spacing in between hills.  I figured, why not just plant 2 of these hills on each side of a bed – so I ended up placing 3 plants in a circle that was about 12” across.
 
Zucchini Plants in August 2013
Just to show how pitiful my plants were last year

This year, I am going to space individual plants 24” apart & see how that goes.  My zucchini plants have never grown that big - but I am learning & changing how I do things each year & this may be the year that I get monster (for me) plants!  Well, probably not, but I can always dream.

I tried using Granny’s milk recipe to help with the PM and, surprisingly, I actually saw some improvement.  But I think that the plants were so stressed & had so few leaves by this point that they didn’t really stand a chance, no matter what I did.  I am putting Granny’s recipe in my arsenal and will be spraying my plants weekly this year, once the netting comes off.  Fingers crossed that it helps keep PM at bay.

Squash Issue #3 - Pollination

But borers and mildew were not the only problems.  I also had issues with pollination.
 
All of my baby squashes at the tail end of the female blossoms would, more often than not, shrivel up and fall off.  When I say more often than not, I mean I would get one fertilized squash out of maybe every 10 female blossoms, if I was lucky.  Although this can be caused by stressed out plants (which mine were), I also believe that I didn’t have enough pollinator activity.
 
So this year, I decided that I was going to plant some sort of pollinator attracting annual right in the squash beds.  There were plenty to choose from, but the one I settled on was borage.  I’ve never grown it before, but apparently it is a bee magnet, or so I’ve read.  I have placed one borage plant at each corner of the squash bed plus one halfway down the long sides.

My Squash Plants Today

So here are my Sure Thing & Golden Nugget bush squash that I transplanted a few days ago:

Bush Squash - Netted To Protect Them From Squash Vine Borers
 
The netting on this bed is tulle from the fabric store (another Granny suggestion).  It is MUCH lighter than the netting I used last year & it is supported on a proper frame.  Down the long sides, I placed bamboo poles on top of the netting & then secured them to the ground with tent stakes.  On the ends, I simply used 2’ sections of rebar.
 
Tent Stake Holding Down Bamboo
 
The tulle works great in this case, because the squash only occupy ½ of the bed lengthwise – the basic tulle sold in fabric stores is just wide enough to cover that section.  Earlier this year I purchased insect netting from a local seed house.  The netting was 25’ long x 83” wide and cost $24.95.  I thought this was pretty pricy, so when it came time to cover the squash beds, I decided to try the tulle.  What surprised me, however, was that a 25’ length of the tulle (that is only about 60” wide) actually ended up costing me around $26.  I often find, however, that cost is largely dependent on where you live, so it is worth checking out just the same.  Granny was able to get her tulle for $1/yard, while the price here was $3/yard – quite the difference when I am looking at 4 yards per bed.

Some of the borage plants in one of the squash beds are just on the verge of flowering.  This is the first time I have grown borage, so I had no idea when the flowers would open.  My goal is that they be in bloom once the netting comes off the squash.  Based on what happens this year, and assuming that they will in fact bring lots of pollinators to the squash beds, I will probably adjust the timing for when I start them in the future.
 
Borage - Just About to Flower
 
And one last comment on the heirloom vining squash, “Zucchetta Tromboncino”.  This variety, which I described in Part 1, is not netted or otherwise protected from the squash vine borer.  Apparently, it is one of the few squash varieties that is SVB resistant.  I saw numerous references online from people that grew this variety and claimed that it remained SVB free, even when other squash plants succumbed.
 
Zucchetta Tromboncino
 
Wikipedia states that Zucchetta Tromboncino is also resistant to powdery mildew (yeah!) and squash bugs – a big bonus!   Sounds like an all-around winner in the garden, so I am quite looking forward to seeing how it does.

Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

4 comments:

  1. Good luck with your squash. I keep thinking that I should just not worry about the svb anymore and get what I get. But I can't help thinking I can foil it. We will see about this year. I can't using netting on mine. They get too huge. They are a vining type that has world domination on its mind. Now if only they would think about reproduction more I'd get a lot of zucchini.

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    1. Thanks Daphne. I would love to have huge squash plants - just as long as they hold off on any growth spurts until mid-July. I hope you have better luck this year with your squash - us gardeners are such optimists!

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  2. I just spent the morning cutting SVBs out of my squash stems. I hate those things! I tried growing Tromboncino a couple of years ago and it survived longer than the other ones, but the SVBs still got them. As for winter squash, this year I'm trying Cushaw squash and so far it is the only one that hasn't been infected by the borers. One time I cut 30 SVBs out of a single butternut squash plant!! It didn't survive. My strategy this year is to keep planting squash. I'm planting them every four weeks in hopes that I can miss the vine borers at some point. I don't know if you have a long enough growing season to do that (but because of our long season we get two life cycles of the SVBs.. grr!). As for pollination, I've found that in early spring the squash don't get pollinated very well and I've definitely been out there with a paint brush before. I need to try covering them and keeping track of degree days, maybe that'll be next year's strategy.

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    1. Ugh - aren't they frustrating, the way they just sneak up on you. You are right in that our growing season is not long enough for succession planting - but I may, one year, try sowing the squash a couple of weeks later, just to see what happens. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Tromboncino does ok. And hopefully your Cushaw squash makes it through the season as well - it definitely sounds promising! This may be another variety that I add to my list of potentials for next year...

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