The girl with a pink banana squash while Mary Ellen the rooster looks on
There is a good reason I don’t normally flaunt the harvests around here, and yesterday’s squash post demonstrates why: I tend to harvest things by the wheelbarrowload. I kind of don’t like showing off how crazy I am so I try to keep things under wraps. (It’s probably not working, though.)
I did, however, get a few serious questions about winter squash yesterday. It has taken me a few years to figure out what makes them grow well, so I thought I would share with you the secrets of a successful harvest. Barring my local conditions (fertile clay soil, lots of sun, lots of rain) here are my tips:
- My first tip? Compost! Ever since my best harvests of cantaloupe and birdhouse gourds came from volunteers in the compost heap, I realized that compost is a squash plant’s best friend. Last year I moved the compost pile to a different location and I allowed a few volunteers to pop up in the former location, as well as nutrient-hungry corn and popcorn. I had never been terribly serious about winter squash before last year, because the squash bugs made sure that there was never a serious SUMMER squash harvest. Squash bugs are vile creatures, bent on the destruction of any squash plant, but crookneck yellow squash (my personal favorite) is its primary target. I have always succession-planted summer squash (once when the ground warms, the second once the squash bugs hit) and have usually beaten them that way. But I never figured winter squash was a viable crop until I literally planted them in compost.
- My second tip is vigilance against vine borers and the aforementioned squash bugs. Vine borer damage is obvious, and quick; squash bug infestations are slow but sure. Daily examination helps both. I got over my “ick” reaction and began squashing squash bug eggs as soon as I could find them, whether I had gloves on or not. (I seem to be able to handle any vile thing if there’s a protective layer between me and it.) As long as any one plant has only ONE colony of eggs on it, the plant will live, albeit in a reduced capacity.
- My third tip is compost tea and a steady application of new compost, especially where the vining plants dig into the ground again (this happens with pumpkins, not with butternuts). Compost tea for me is just compost sitting in a bucket of water for 2 days; I pour it and the wet compost onto the plant’s roots and new runners. No aeration, no straining, nothing fancy.
Geez this sounds like a lot of work. And I suppose it could be but the winter squash season is a long one, the bug-infestation season a short one. For the most part I just stand back and watch them grow.
And as to what I am to do with all this? Well, we’ll eat maybe one or two squash a week, in various guises. I tend to tuck puree’d squash into anything (breads, mashed potatoes, soups, pies) but honestly only one dinner a week will feature “obvious” squash (as soup, roasted as a side dish, tucked in with some pasta or in risotto).