Posts Tagged ‘growing squash’

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

July 4th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

Squashes are notoriously prolific, but sometimes they need a bit of help to get started. If your plants are flowering like mad but not producing fruits, it’s time to start hand-pollinating them to speed things along.

Read on or watch the video and we’ll show you how to do it.

Why Hand Pollinate?

Hand pollination is a useful technique when there aren’t many natural pollinators such as bees around – either because it’s cold or rainy, or because crops are growing under cover in a greenhouse or tunnel. Hand pollinating is also a simple and effective way to boost your yields, ensuring good fruit set for a reliable harvest.

All types of squashes can be hand pollinated including pumpkins, melons and courgette.

Male vs Female Squash Flowers

Squashes have separate male and female flowers. Before we hand pollinate we need to know exactly which is which.

Male squash flowers have a straight stem behind the bloom with no swelling. Peer inside the flower and you can see the stamen, which carry the pollen. This is where you’ll take the pollen from to fertilise the female bloom.

Close up of a female courgette flower on the vegetable patchThe female flowers have a very obvious swelling behind them. This is the immature fruit, which will begin growing once it has been pollinated. Peek inside a female flower and you can clearly make out the stigma, which is where the pollen needs to be in order to fertilise the bloom.

When you compare male and female flowers side by side it’s easy to see the differences.

How to Hand Pollinate

A soft-bristled artist’s paintbrush is ideal for pollinating squash blossoms. Use it to tickle pollen from the stamen of a male flower onto the brush. You should be able to see the yellow pollen on the brush end. Once you’ve done this, transfer it onto the stigma of a female flower by gently stroking the brush over it. And that’s it!

If you don’t have a paintbrush, you can simply detach the male flower from the plant then peel back the petals to expose the stamen and its pollen. Now, carefully dab the pollen onto the stigma of an open female flower to pollinate it.

Saving Seed

Hand pollination is also useful when you want to save seeds of your favourite varieties. Squashes readily cross-pollinate with each other, so the only way to guarantee that seeds will produce plants that are the same variety as their parents is to prevent pollination by insects. You can then hand-pollinate to ensure that only pollen from plants of the same variety reaches the female flower.

You don’t need to isolate the whole plant, just one or two female blooms that will carry your seed. Cover the flower with a light, breathable fabric such as muslin. Tie the fabric around the stem at the back so the flower is completely enclosed. Then, when it opens, remove the fabric and hand pollinate. Return the cover once you’re done and keep it in place until the flower drops off and there’s no further risk of cross-pollination. Mark the stem of the developing fruit with a ribbon so you know from which fruits to collect your seeds.

In situations where squashes are reluctant to produce fruits, hand pollination is a very useful techinque to know. How are your squashes getting on this summer? Are they romping away, or in need of a little encouragement? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Squash from Sowing to Harvest

May 8th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Squash from Sowing to Harvest

Squashes and pumpkins are among the most thrilling vegetables you can grow – it’s the speed with which they do it! One minute the seedlings are tentatively pushing through and then – bosh! – just a few weeks later, they’re great sprawling monsters with masses of leafy foliage and plenty of fruits. They’re so easy to grow too – as long as you can keep up with their insatiable appetite, that is!

Read on or watch the video to find out the very best way to grow them.

Types of Squash

Squash varieties come in all sorts of shapes, patterns and sizes, but fall into one of two categories: winter squash or summer squash. Winter squash are harvested in one go at the end of the growing season to provide a feast of fruits to enjoy over the winter months. They include favourites like butternut squash, spaghetti squash and the myriad of pumpkins. Summer squash are harvested throughout the summer and include, for example, courgette, patty pan and crookneck squashes.

Squash are either trailing or bushy. Trailing squash can be left to sprawl over the soil surface or trained up onto trellising or wire mesh. For really big pumpkins though, it’s best to leave stems to sprawl. They will send down extra roots as they spread to take up even more of those valuable nutrients and moisture.

Where to Grow Squash

Squash love a warm, sunny and sheltered spot – ideal conditions for good pollination and proper fruit developmentSquash love a warm, sunny and sheltered spot – ideal conditions for good pollination and proper fruit development. The plants are hungry feeders and need a rich, fertile soil. Any soil can be improved by barrowing on lots of well-rotted compost or manure, or create planting pockets by digging out a hole for each plant at least two weeks before sowing or planting. Fill the hole with a mixture of soil and compost or manure and top with a handful or organic fertiliser.

Smaller varieties of summer squash may also be grown in containers that are at least 18 inches (45cm) wide.

How to Sow Squash

Sow squash directly where they are to grow after your last frost date. Sow two seeds to each position then thin the seedlings to leave the strongest. Pop a jar, cloche or cold frame over sowing areas to help speed up germination.

A more reliable alternative is to sow into pots under cover. Sow one seed per pot, about an inch (2cm) deep. Germinate in the warmth, at around 60-68°F (15-20°C). Sowings like this can be made up to a month before your last frost to give good-sized plants by planting out time. You may need to pot the quick-growing seedlings on into larger pots before it’s safe to move them outside.

Most garden stores and nurseries also sell ready-to-plant seedlings – handy if you only want to grow a few plants.

How to Plant Squash

Set your plants out after all danger of frost has passed. Start to acclimatise them to outside conditions two weeks beforehand. Leave them out during the day for increasingly longer periods then, from the second week, overnight in a sheltered position. Plant trailing varieties up to 5ft (1.5m) apart and bush types about 3ft (90cm) apart. Thoroughly water plants into position to settle the soil around the rootball.

Caring for Squash

Keep squash plants well watered to encourage rapid growthKeep plants well watered to encourage rapid growth. You can make watering easier by sinking 6-inch (15cm) pots alongside plants. The pots will hold onto the water and deliver it through the drainage holes directly where it’s needed, at the roots. Mulch around plants with organic matter to help lock in valuable soil moisture and contribute additional nutrients.

Stems of especially vigorous varieties can be pegged down at regular intervals to keep them within their allotted space. Larger fruits, particularly pumpkins, should be lifted off the soil, for instance onto tiles, to stop them rotting as they develop.

How to Harvest Squash

Harvest courgette and summer squash as soon as they are the size you need. Pick often to encourage more fruits to follow. Winter squash and pumpkins are harvested in the autumn before the first frosts, usually when the foliage has started to die back or become infected by powdery mildew.

Cut either side of the stem to leave a T-shaped stub. Avoid the temptation to use the stem as a handle as it could detach from the fruit and serve as an entry point to rot. Move fruits to a warm, dry and sunny spot to cure. Curing hardens the skin ready for storage. If it’s already turned cold and damp outside, cure fruits in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. Winter squash and pumpkins will store for up to six months at room temperature.

Growing squashes to be proud of is really very straightforward. What varieties would you recommend? What’re your tips for growing bigger, bolder fruits? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.