Friday, February 5, 2016

End of Season Review - Squash


As many of you know, I’m squash challenged - I’ve been at it for 4 years now with minimal success.  Like radishes, it’s the quintessential “easy” vegetable that I just can’t seem to get right.  I solved my radish problems this past year, but squash is still a work in progress.

From tiny plants that don’t grow, to the squash vine borer, to powdery mildew, to lack of pollination ... the issues go on and on.  If you're interested in all the gory details, I wrote a two-part post on my squash troubles back in 2014.

Romanesco

The squash story this year centered around one thing – straw bales.  I was quite excited to give this method a try as it seemed to be a great way of growing a space hog like squash...not that I would know anything about that.  My squash had always been too polite to take up much room ;)

Early in the season, the performance of the plants growing in the bales was pretty dismal.

Squash in straw bales in mid-July
 
It all came down to one error on my part – I didn’t condition the bales.  I had (erroneously) assumed that leaving the bales out over the previous winter would automatically condition them – or at least that’s what I read on some website which, of course, I can’t find now.  I should have known that this sounded much too easy.

The end result was that every plant I grew in the bales, be it flower or squash, languished for a good couple of months.  You can clearly see the difference in the alyssum grown in the bales vs a bed in mid-July:

Alyssum in straw bale
 
Alyssum in a bed
 
The alyssum in the bed was not only significantly larger but also abundantly flowering and the foliage was a rich, dark green.

Once I realized my error, I increased the frequency of fertilization as well as the amounts (I used both fish emulsion and granular organic fertilizer), but it seemed to make little difference.  At this point, I was pretty much resigned to the straw bale failure.

But then, I noticed a definite change in the plants.  All of a sudden, they started to put on some good growth and we began to harvest a few squash.

Straw Bales in mid-September
 
Unfortunately, it was rather late in the season by this point, but the spurt of growth gave me a glimpse of their potential had I conditioned them properly.

I didn't grow all of the squash in straw bales.  The one true success this past season was the butternut squash, which I planted in the corn bed on the hilltop.  I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw those tiny fruits on the vines.

Baby Butternut Squash
 
From 2 plants, I ended up harvesting 5 winter squash – a huge number for me.

The first Waltham Butternut harvest
 
To say I was pleased is an understatement.





The other two winter squash varieties - Gold Nugget & Sweet Mama - were grown in the straw bales.  Unfortunately, I only ended up with one squash from those plants:

Sweet Mama

And then there was the Tromboncino.  Considering it was my favourite summer squash variety in 2014, I still can’t believe that I completely forgot about it last spring.  I didn’t realize my gaff until the end of June at which point I sowed some seeds, even thought I was 2 months late and the chance of getting any sort of harvest was significantly reduced.  I ended up harvesting one lowly squash – which was certainly better than nothing.

The sole Tromboncino squash harvested this year

I also did a late sowing of Romanesco - this time intentionally - after I pulled up the shelling peas in mid-July.  I had noticed that many people did 2nd sowings of squash to replace spring sown plants that would often succumb to squash vine borers or powdery mildew in late summer.  Surprisingly, I actually ended up harvested some squash from this planting.  I didn’t keep track of where each zucchini came from, but I know that I harvested at least 3 or 4 from those plants.





One of the big benefits from the late seeding was that I didn’t have to worry very much about the squash vine borer as the moths are done laying their eggs by mid-July.  What also stands out is the harvest period.  I grew Sure Thing last year & started harvesting in mid-July, almost two months earlier than this year.


Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

Even though the straw bales didn’t work out as well as I hoped and I forgot about sowing the Tromboncino, I would say that the success of the butternut squash and the promising performance of the bales later in the season made up for it.

As the bales I used last season didn’t decompose that much, I’ll be trying to use them again this coming year.  In addition, I’ll purchase a few more bales and this time, I’ll be conditioning them properly, although I still have to figure out how to do that.  The amount of organic fertilizer called for in the original book seems excessive (3 cups per bale per day for the first 6 days!) - that would cost me a small fortune.

One of the benefits of using straw bales, of course, is that I’m not limited by bed space which means one thing – I can try more varieties.  So I’ll be growing all of the same ones I did this past year PLUS a few new ones.  With any luck, 2016 will be my turning point year in the squash department :)

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

6 comments:

  1. Hi Margaret, I have decided not to grow any squash except zucchini. I wanted to ask more questions about the Bunching or Egyptian onions if you don't mind. Do you eat some like green onions and then leave some for seeds? Do you then replant the seed or does it just burst and replant itself. Thinking about digging a little spot by the driveway to put some. Thanks. Nancy

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    1. The perennial bunching onions I grow are not the same as Egyptian onions. I'll give you a bit of a rundown on how each type.

      For the perennial bunching onions, you start off with seed that you sow in the spring. You can get an early start by sowing them indoors, but I think that sowing them outside once the ground is workable is the easiest method. The bunching onions increase by dividing at the base (i.e. as each individual onion grows, it will split into 2 onions. Then those will split into more onions, and so forth.) You simply harvest a few onions whenever you need them and leave the rest to continue to multiply. No messing with seeds needed after you sow them that first time.

      Egyptian onions are somewhat different - these form tiny little bulbits at their tips(like tiny baby onions) and as the bulbits grow, the stem bends towards the ground. When they eventually touch the ground, the bulbits will root and form more onions. These onions also divide, so that the clump will get bigger as time goes on. I grew Egyptian onions many years ago, but can't recall how I harvested them or how they tasted - I seem to remember them being quite large though. I hope that helps, Nancy! Looking forward to seeing how you get on with them this spring.

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  2. Your butternut squash look brilliant. I grew some last year but we never got to taste them as they completely vanished. I wonder if someone had taken them, we were so short on time last year that our trips to the allotment were very irregular, perhaps someone thought the plot had been abandoned and helped themselves. Have you tried patty pan squash? They're so prolific and we really enjoy them. They're quite large plants but they don't tend to sprawl as much as winter squash does.

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    1. I've heard of things (and not always veg) disappearing from plots...it's so sad that you never got to enjoy your squash.

      I haven't tried patty pan squash BUT it was on my list for this year and the seeds actually arrived yesterday. Very excited to give it a try.

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  3. It does look like the straw bales really work, a worthwhile experiment. And congratulations on your gorgeous winter squash, aren't they such a pleasure to harvest?

    We get squash vine borers as well. Have you ever tried using spinosad? It worked for me albeit unconventionally. I didn't use it last year because of making baby food from the garden even though its supposed to be organic, but it did work previous years.

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    1. Thanks Phuong - it WAS amazing, harvesting those huge (for me!) squash. I actually have a nice big pot of butternut squash soup in the fridge right now - so good!

      I had heard of spinosad but didn't really know much about it. I've done a quick search and it doesn't look like it's readily available here, which is often the case, even with organic pesticides (we don't have Sluggo either). I've been using netting to keep the SVB out, removing it in July, by which time they are done laying eggs. Since I've started doing that, I haven't had any SVB issues. And moschata varieties like butternut and Tromboncino have stems that are much more resistant to SVB, so I don't even have to bother with netting for those & have not had a problem so far.

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