Tuesday, January 13, 2015

End of Season Review - Squash



This year, I grew 4 varieties of summer squash – 2 green zucchini types (Dark Green & Sure Thing), a yellow straightneck (Early Prolific) and a vining variety (Zucchetta Tromboncino).  I also grew one variety of winter squash (Gold Nugget).  Of these varieties, only the Tromboncino & Gold Nugget were new to the garden.

I started all of the seeds indoors on May 22nd & transplanted them outside on June 1st.  I then immediately covered the beds with netting in an effort to thwart the squash vine borer.

Sure Thing Zucchini
 
This is my third year growing squash and it is one of those crops that frustrates me every single time.  Unlike many folks that have so many squash they can’t even give them away, I always seem to struggle to get even a modest harvest.  I talked about all of the issues that I have had when growing squash in a two part post – HERE and HERE.

To help with my pollination issues, I decided to plant borage in the squash beds.  The borage grew much larger than I had anticipated (which I talked about in my end of season cucumber review).  I have a feeling that the huge borage plants may very well have impacted on the growth of the squash not only by overshadowing them, but also possibly robbing the squash of nutrients.  I did cut back the borage in August, but by then it was likely too late.

Dark Green (left) & Early Prolific (right)
 
Whether or not the borage helped with pollination is anyone's guess - the squash plants stayed so small & bloomed so sparsely that they could have been surrounded by bees and still not produced well.  The small plants also contributed to another pollination problem - there were so few blossoms on the plants that the male & female blossoms rarely seemed to open at the same time.

There was only one plant that got to a halfway decent size (for me, that is - it was still small by regular summer squash standards) - one of the Sure Things.  That particular plant, of course, ended up producing the majority of the squash this summer.

I would see other bloggers (namely Michelle) having trouble keeping their overzealous plants in check as they overflowed onto pathways.  Just made me shake my head and sigh….such is my life when it comes to squash.

The "Dark Green" squash plants on the left are
dwarfed by the borage on the right
 
Powdery mildew is another scourge that I have to contend with.  I did spray the plants on and off with a milk spray, but later in the summer, it still appeared.  I think it was a bit better than last year, so that's a smidgen of progress.

The Zucchetta Tromboncino were quite resistant to the powdery mildew.  They still caught it, but it seemed to progress much more slowly than on any of the other varieties.  They were, in fact, the last squash plant left standing in the fall.  So the original claims I had read about this variety (resistant to SVB and powdery mildew) appear to be true.

Not that any of this helped my harvest at all – the Tromboncino vines only gave me two squash.  But what wonderfully delicious squash they were....by far the most delicious of all the varieties I grew.


Zucchetta Tromboncino
 


Winter squash was new to the garden this year.  Gold Nugget is a bush variety and, unfortunately, it had all the same issues as the summer squash – small plants producing only one tiny squash per plant.  The largest of the two squash harvested was 348 grams (0.77 lbs) - quite a bit less than the 1-2 lb. fruits this variety is supposed to produce.  On the plus side, the squash was tasty – even if it was only big enough for a small side dish for two.


Gold Nugget




Prior Year Comparison

2012

I grew only one variety this year – Sure Thing – because it was supposed to be…you guessed it….a sure thing.  Not so much for me, it seems.

I did already know about the squash vine borer & covered the plants with a row cover, but not until mid-June and one of the four plants got infected.  Then powdery mildew arrived on the scene and by late August, the surviving 3 plants were kaput.




2013

I grew three varieties of summer squash this year.  Once again I grew Sure Thing (2 seedlings) and then added Early Prolific and Dark Green (1 seedling each).  One of the Sure Things died shortly after transplanting so I ended up with only one plant for each variety.

I packed the seedlings tightly when I transplanted them into a bed – placing them only 12” apart in a “hill”.  The total area of the bed that I allocated to the squash was about 6 sq. feet.  Not very much, but I was trying to cram as many veg. as possible into my 4 small beds.




Even with the close spacing, Sure Thing still gave a slightly larger harvest than in 2012….but only just.  The slight increase may have been because of the hefty dose of compost applied to the bed.

I also noted that I sowed the seeds much too early.  The plants were way too large by the time I transplanted them 4 weeks later.  After realizing that squash only needs a couple of weeks to reach transplanting size, I adjusted the sowing date in my notes to mid-May.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

With three years of experience under my belt and very little progress towards a good harvest, squash wins the prize for “least amount of improvement”.

My squash plants have never grown that large – each year I seem to find a different reason for this – too close spacing, insufficient soil fertility, overshadowed by the borage.  Or is it any of these reasons?

I read on someone's blog (for the life of me I can't recall where, so if this is you, let me know!) that they had poor results growing their squash in raised beds, but as soon as they tried growing it in the ground, it just took off.  So maybe the squash just doesn’t like the beds they are in and it has nothing to do with any of these other issues (or those issues may simply have compounded the problem, but not necessarily created it).

Based on the size of these squash plants,
you would think this picture was taken in June, not August
 
Next year, I’m thinking of taking a completely different route when it comes to squash.  Our soil is very rocky, which is why I love raised beds, so planting directly in the ground would be way too much work, especially as I would have to create at least 2 or 3 beds for crop rotation.

An alternative that seems promising was presented by Susie at Cold Hands Warm Earth – growing squash in straw or hay bales.  I had heard about this new method of growing but hadn’t given it much thought until I saw Susie’s post on growing squash.  So I’m thinking that I may give this a try next year.  I already have a source for the bales lined up so we are good to go on that front.  I just have to do a bit of research on conditioning, etc., but there is still plenty of time for that.

Lack of pollination is always an issue as well, it seems, but I’m not sure how I will tackle that one.  The borage that I grew in the beds this year was pretty good, but it just takes up too much space.  I may try to co-plant the squash with a smaller bee attracting annual.  Or I may just locate the straw bale near a section of the perennial border that naturally attracts bees….although off the top of my head, I’m not exactly sure where that would be.

One way I intend to get a few more squash, even if I continue to struggle with pollination next year, is to grow "Romanesco".    Both Michelle and Thomas grow this particular variety of summer squash and their posts about it just blew me away.  What makes this particular variety so unique?  How about the fact that it grows to a harvestable size even before the flowers open for pollination – now THAT is my kind of squash!

I will continue to use the milk spray - I think it did have some effect, although not as much as I would have liked.  I do know, however, that I was not as diligent with the spraying as I should have been and one of the reasons for this was the spray bottle I was using.  It was a pain - literally.  I was using it on so many things including the cucumbers and tomatoes that I would have to switch back and forth as my hand began to hurt.  This year, I am going to treat myself and purchase one of those small pressure sprayers.  If spraying is faster and easier, I will do a more thorough job of it and hopefully, this will improve it's effectiveness.

I will be dropping Early Prolific and Dark Green.  The Gold Nugget & Zucchetto Tromboncino will be grown again next year.  I will also include Sure Thing once again – since I have grown this variety for the past three years, I think it will give me the best gauge as to the success of the straw bale method vs. growing in the beds.

I will likely try one or two other winter & summer squash varieties as well.  In addition, Daphne has really inspired me to try a two sisters garden – corn & winter squash planted in the same bed.  In my plan, I’ve already set aside one of the new beds on the hilltop (which will be set up in the spring) for this planting.  Could this be the year when my luck on squash finally turns around?  Fingers crossed!

Till next time...

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

10 comments:

  1. Hi Margaret,I found your blog from replying to Mark's post about his raised beds.
    I've also grown Trombone squash for a number of years and have always regarded them as a courgette with a swelling at one end.Yes they are delicious,with a creamy texture/taste.
    I wait until I'm on holiday in Madeira or the Canaries to buy the seeds as you can get a large foil packet for 2 euros with enough seed to last two or three seasons.
    Last year's (2014) fruits were happy trailing up the allotment fences and bean poles so quite space saving in their own way!

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    1. Hi David - Thanks for stopping by! The fact that you can train Tromboncino vines to a trellis or fence is definitely one of the benefits of that variety. This past summer was unusually cool so I'm hoping that 2015 gives us a normal, hot summer which in turn may mean many more Tromboncino squash!

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  2. Yeah I'm really kicking myself or not buying Romenesco when I ordered from Renees this year. Somehow it slipped my mind. And I have troubles with zucchini too. Though I think water was the issue last year. Once they started getting water (not being blocked by the cukes), they did so much better. Borers are always a problem here and I keep debating about an early or a late covered planting being best. I guess I have a long time to think about it.

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    1. I've never ordered from Renee's but did notice that they ship to Canada - I'll have to see if any of the other companies I plan on ordering from have Romanesco. Sometimes it's a juggling act as I want to purchase from the least number of companies to cut down on those darn shipping charges. Watering is the one thing that I have to figure out with the straw bale method - I've never been a fan of dragging a hose around the yard.

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  3. In 2013, I had great success with the hay bales - I was giving away zucchini to everyone I saw and one plant was easily 6+ feet in diameter. I also used bales in 2014 and had zero success. I assumed it was the cool, wet weather we had, but might have been that straw (vs. the hay) is pretty much nutritionally deficient and I was a bit late in offering anything extra to the plant. ALL of my squash (summer and winter alike) were tiny little things that bore no fruit. But I plan to do bales again this year - and I'm trying tromboncino for the first time.

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    1. Giving zucchini away? Aaah...only in my dreams.... so far ;)

      I can't wait to start on the bales - it will be great to be doing them at the same time and compare notes!

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  4. Definitely keep trying! I think squash can usually benefit from a bit more space. I know your bed space is limited, but maybe try giving each plant ~4 square feet? A straw bale garden is a great idea too! They usually do best in their second year, once they've had a little time to break down. For pollination, maybe you could try hand pollinating? Good luck, and thanks for sharing!

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    1. I did hand pollinate this year as I wasn't very confident about those bees getting to the blossoms - sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. And I will definitely not be giving up any time soon!

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  5. You are not going to like hearing this, but I'm planning on not growing the Romanesco zucchini this year because I don't want another 100+ pounds of zucchini again. I so fell in love with the Tromba D'Albenga squash last year that I've decided to grow just that this year. And as you noted it has the added benefit of growing up a trellis and saving space. BTW, the Romanesco offered by Renee's is an F1 hybrid, most other Romanesco zucchinis are not, I think the hyper productivity of the Renee's is because it is a hybrid.

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    1. Your right - I just can't wrap my head around the Romanesco being too prolific for you to grow next year! Although I CAN understand wanting to grow only Tromba D'Albenga - it is an outstanding squash.

      Thanks for the tip on Renee's - I would not have thought that there was a difference in ordering there vs. any other supplier. Of course, now I have to see what other seeds they have to offer - can't order just one packet, now can I? ;)

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