I want to start by reminding readers on the Gordon Extension Lunch and Learn series. The next event will be on March 28 and will be a presentation on composting and mulching. Remember that classes are free to attend and you simply call or email to register. We try to have you in and out in an hour. Classes start at 12 noon at the Gordon County Agricultural Service Center. You can also request a flyer with upcoming Lunch and Learn class details. Hope to see you at several of the Lunch and Learns this spring.
The last several months my articles have centered on vegetable gardening basics. The goal is to help you with gardening success. A few articles have been vegetable specific such as tomatoes and peppers. This week I will be discussing squash, which is a favorite of many gardeners. I will be sharing information based on a UGA publication by Malgarzata Florkowska and Bob Westerfield.
Squash in general are not very difficult to grow, but you need to have some basics down plus be prepared to deal with some insect, disease and environmental issues. Keep in mind that fresh squash can be a part of a healthy diet by being high in vitamins A and C plus offers a high fiber content. Squash is broken down into either the summer type squash or winter squash. For many, the summer squash are popular such as the yellow straight neck or crooked neck, white scallop or zucchini squash. Summer squash will grow on non-vining bushes. Winter squash will mature on the vine and is covered with a hard rind that will permit winter storage. Most winter squash are sorted into groups by fruit size. The small winter squash are in the 1-4 pound range and would include acorn and butternut-type squash.
To grow squash, you need a soil with good levels of organic matter that is well-draining. Organic matter will serve a purpose of assisting the plants in uptake of nutrients and water. It is suggested to add compost or aged manure from a non-herbicide potential source. If the garden site is new, it is suggested to added 4-5 inches of organic material and till that material 8-10 inches into the soil. You should try to have a pH range of 5.8 to 6.8 for growing squash with soil temperature from 65-80 degrees F. You need to plant squash at least after the last frost date. That normally is middle of April in our area. Squash need to be planted in full sun settings, too. You will need to plant 4-6 squash seeds in individual mounds that are 4 feet apart. When the plants have two leaves, you will need to thin each mound to two to three plants per mound. You may also have the opportunity to buy squash transplants in the area. If you choose to buy transplants, make sure the plant has developed 2-3 mature leaves and has a developed root system. Winter squash will need more room than summer squash varieties. For winter squash varieties, you will need to plant each mound 6-8 inches apart since they need more room to grow. Winter squash needs warm soils and it is suggested to plant a few weeks after summer squash.
If you plant squash by seed, after germinated, you will need to apply some type of organic mulch. Mulching will help conserve soil moisture and combat weed issues. Mulching can also help keep fruit clean. If you seed squash, remember to water daily and lightly for the first week to aid seed germination. Established plants, per Florkowska and Westerfield, will need 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Note that soaker hoses and drip irrigation are better by getting moisture to the plant roots and keeping foliage dry. Remember, the goal of irrigation is to get wet the soil down to 6-8 inches. It is stated to reduce watering once the squash ripens to cut down on rot.
A squash plant will have male and female flowers for pollination. They need bees or other insects to help with the pollination. Sometimes pollinator insects can be low and you may lose some of the female flowers. You can pollinate the squash by learning the difference in male and female flowers and then gather pollen and conduct transfer with a cotton swab. I can send you more details. You need to think about squash fertilization at planting. You still have time to conduct a soil sampling procedure for accurate recommendations. You can apply 3 tablespoons of 5-10-15 fertilizer per mound at planting.
After squash plants start flowering and you get fruit set, you can side dress with fertilizer per a soil test. After fertilizing, water the plants to help release the nutrients from the fertilizer.
Next week, we will go in more detail on squash harvest and storage. We will also discuss insect, disease and environmental issues that can put a damper on your squash production.
For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.