Among the vegetables that produce masses of eating for very little work, the squash family is a real standout - for gardeners who give them rich soil, water in dry spells, and sunshine.
Mid-June is pretty well the last call for transplanting winter squash into the garden, because the fruits need time to ripen before fall rains and frost begin. But summer squash, zucchinis, and cucumbers can still be planted over the next weeks, because they can be eaten at a younger stage.
Because transplants are stressed with the initial root disturbance and adjustment to new conditions, they're very susceptible to slugs. Tiny seedling squash are even more at risk.
Some gardeners surround the plants with organic slug bait, while others may pop a minigreenhouse cover over the plant. They may cut the bottom off big plastic milk cartons or saw it off polycarbonate juice covers.
Air circulation can be provided by removing the top caps and substituting a square of the plastic mesh used to package fruit for sale. Twist-ties are best; elastic bands rot and break.
Many summer squash, including zucchini, are available as bush varieties. They can be productive in large containers, if they get lots of nourishment, watering, and sun.
Acorn-type winter squash have some semi-bush and compact varieties, including the true bush type, 'Table King Bush Acorn.' Compact plants producing pumpkins have also been developed. In a generally cool, short-summer climate like ours, it's always a challenge to get squash planted in time to produce a crop before winter closes in.
But immature winter squash can be eaten in the way summer squash can. An experiment I've wondered about for people who like
vegetables much better than lawns might be starting a fullsize vining squash in a container in the middle of a lawn. If it runs true to form, the plant should cascade down the sides of the container and all over the lawn, picking up extra nutrition from its stem-roots. Squash patches can be very beautiful.
I once tried starting squash in the middle of the vegetable garden and guiding the vines with stakes into the harvested-vegetable beds and around the others. It was a semi-success. On the positive side, the squash patch produced more fruit than ever before.
But access to the winter garden beds became a problem, and I had to prune away the outside edge of wandering vines. Later, when I cleared away the frost-killed vines, I discovered multiple weeds had sprouted under those luxurious leaves.
Many of the heritage squash grow so large they may have to be dragged, rather than lifted. But they do have delicious fruits, though some of the tastiest, like 'Triamble' and 'Turks Turban' can also have deeply ribbed rinds that need a good scrubbing before freezing. Some, like 'Hubbard', develop very hard skins. Such squash are magnificent keepers, a necessity when the pioneers grew them.
The round 'Buttercup' squash and the zucchini-shaped 'Butternut' are very manageable. The Butternut is an exceptional keeper and has more flesh and less strings inside than the others. Smaller squash like 'Delicata' and 'Acorn' produce masses of easytoprepare squash that are just the right size for two people sharing supper.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to amarrison@ shaw.ca
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