Vegetable: squash; where, when, and how to grow

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WHERE AND WHEN TO GROW Squashes are warm-season crops and very sensitive to cold and frost. They like night temperatures of at least 60 degrees F. Don't plant the seeds until the soil has warmed up in spring, about two to three weeks after the average date of last frost for your area. Direct-seeding is best for squashes, but if you're planting a variety that requires a longer growing season than your area can provide, use transplants from a reputable nursery or garden center, or grow your own. To grow your own transplants, start four to five weeks befor your outdoor planting date, and use individual plantable containers to lessen the risk of shock when the seedlings are transplanted. Make sure that the plantable containers are large enough for the variety of squash you're planting.

HOW TO PLANT Squash varieties like well-worked soil with good drainage. They're heavy feeders, so the soil must be well fertilized.

When you're preparing the soil for planting, work in a complete, well balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Two to three weeks after your area's average date of last frost, when the soil is warm, plant squash in inverted hills. Make inverted hills by removing an inch of soil from an area about 12 inches across and using this soil to form a ring around the circle. Make the inverted hills three to four feet apart, and plant four or five seeds in each one. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them to leave the two or three strongest young plants standing. Cut the thinned seedlings off at soil level with scissors; if you pull them out you'll disturb the roots of the remaining seedlings.

FERTILIZING AND WATERING Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Keep the soil evenly moist; squashes need a lot of water in hot weather. The vines may wilt on hot days because the plant is using water faster than the roots can supply it; if the vines are getting a regular supply of water, don't worry about the wilting--the plants will liven up as the day gets cooler. If squash vines are wilting first thing in the morning, water them immediately.

SPECIAL HANDLING If you grow squashes indoors, or in an area where there are no insects to pollinate the female flowers--your 51st floor balcony, for instance--you may need to pollinate the flowers yourself. Take a soft-bristled brush and dust the inside of the male flower (the one without an immature fruit on the stem), then carefully dust the inside of the female flowers.

PESTS Squash bugs, squash borers, and cucumber beetles are the major pests that squash plants attract. They don't usually show up until you have a good harvest, so squash is still a good choice for the organic gardner. Squashes are prolific, so you can afford to lose a few of your crop to the bugs. Beetles can often be controlled by hand-picking or hosing them off the plants. Control them chemically with carbaryl. To control borers, apply carbaryl to the crowns of the plants at weekly intervals. Do this as soon as there's any suspicion of damage--once the borers get inside the plants, chemical controls are ineffective. If a small hole in the stem tells you borers are already inside, you may still be able to save the plant.

Slit the stem, remove the borers, and dispose of them. Then cover the area with soil to encourage root development at that point.

DISEASES Squashes are susceptible to bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, and mildew. Planting disease-resistant varieties when they're available and maintaining the general cleanliness and health of your garden will help lessen the incidence of disease. When watering, try to keep water off the foliage, and don't handle the plants when they're wet--this can cause powdery mildew and spread disease. If a plant does become infected, remove and destroy it before it can spread disease to healthy plants.

Source: Vegetable Gardening Encyclopedia by Galahad Books, NYC, NY 1982 Typos by Dorothy Flatman, 1995 Submitted By DOROTHY FLATMAN On 01-11-95

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