Okay, there really was not a "squash challenge" but it was so difficult growing squash this year, so that is what I am calling the summer of 2016. First a basic primer on squash. There are many varieties of squash but for simplicity I am going to break them down into summer and winter varieties.
Summer squash fall into the genus of Curcurbita pepo and are squash that are eaten when immature with a soft outer peel. Zucchini and yellow summer squash are the two most familiar varieties. My favorite is Zephyr squash which is a yellow bodied summer squash with a green end. It is a bush variety, is very prolific, hardy and is a sweeter than zucchini or yellow squash.
Where I live in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest, zucchini is very common and well liked. It is grown to be very large (even though it is most flavorful when picked at the 5 - 6 inch size). Commonly people shred them and bake them into sweet breads or bread and deep fry them. Eating zucchini raw or cut into "zoodles" is also a great way to eat zucchini.
Winter squash, also in the genus of Curcurbita, is grown in the summer as well, but remains on the vine longer until fully mature with a hard shell. Winter squash, when not blemished on the outer shell, can store for many months and often becomes sweeter with time. There are many varieties of winter squash: acorn, butternut, spaghetti, turban, Lakota and blue hubbard to name a few. And let's not forget pumpkin which as you know, comes in all shapes and sizes!
If you are new to my blog, you may not know that I have a large vegetable garden in my back yard and a straw bale garden in the front of my house. The front of the house is a perfect place to garden as it is facing the sun, has a water source and is protected from the wind by the house as well as it is extra warm when the lannon stone is heated by the sun.
This past winter , on a rare slow day at work, I happened upon my Rare Seeds catalog and had this great idea of growing new varieties that I have not tried before. My plan was to leave them in a bucket by my mail box for the neighbors as they walked by as well as to try some new food. Sigh, this did not happen this year.
There are newer varieties of squash that are bush types to save space in the garden. The majority of squash are vines and can grow out of control and go everywhere, up trees, houses, across lawns and into other parts of the garden. I have found that they grow great up a trellis. Any vine can handle up to a 30 pound fruit so I train them up a net in a trellis system. Here is a photo of my garden squash bed early to mid season.
In the straw bales, I failed to come up with a decent plan this season and over planted zucchini, zephyr, sweet meat, turban, Lakota, butternut and spaghetti squash. Perfect, I thought, lots of sun, water, room to grow through the grass and a new yearly growing medium as the bales are new each year without overwintering eggs and larva. I planned ahead and got an early start at planting and the vines grew fast and were very vigorous. The vines grew up the trellis easily and put out many male flowers. Squash plants have male and female flowers, the plant first puts out a few weeks of male only flowers followed by female flowers that have the start of the squash at its base. the bees fly between the flowers spreading the pollen thus creating fruit. In the past I have not had a lot of bees and have had to hand pollinate the flowers but with a change in garden practices and the addition of many specific flowers that bloom in all seasons, the bee population has greatly increased in my yard.
This year the heat came on early and fierce here in my zone 5a and there was little to no female flower production in the summer squash thus very few fruits. The theory is that every plant has a window of time when it is crucial to have the right growing conditions, like warm days and cool nights in order to be most productive The early heat stunted the plants and greatly reduced any female flower production. On the other hand, the winter squash put out female flowers and produced a lot of fruit over a 3 - 4 month time span.
In the straw bales, I failed to come up with a decent plan this season and over planted zucchini, zephyr, sweet meat, turban, Lakota, butternut and spaghetti squash. Perfect, I thought, lots of sun, water, room to grow through the grass and a new yearly growing medium as the bales are new each year without overwintering eggs and larva.
Then arrived the bugs. The cucumber beetles arrived in droves. There are two types a yellow spotted and a yellow striped. I have had intermittent problems with the beetles in the past and they overwinter in nearby brush and debris, but this year they came with a vengeance! They were everywhere! I hate them, I hate them with a passion. They are most visible after dusk and in the early morning and are difficult to kill unless you are willing to spray your plants with chemicals and the only effective chemicals also kill bees so that is not an option in my yard.
I hand picked and killed thousands of the destructive beetles utilizing tweezers and scissors from an old incision and drainage kit ( I AM a nurse after all). The problem with the beetles is that they inject a bacteria both into the roots of the plant and into the leaves themselves that causes wilt, malformed fruit and plant demise. The little yellow jerks were everywhere, all summer and ruined cucumbers and pumpkins as well. Squash vine borers are red seslid moths with black wings, orange/red bodies and black spots that bore into the vine at the base of the plant and lay an egg that turns into a larva and destroys the whole vine. I did have success cutting open a vine, removing the larva and then taping the vine back together but this takes time, vigilance and some good luck. next year I will need a new plan that will include later season plantings and tunnels that I will discuss in a later blog post.
All this being said I am not giving up! First of all, butternut squash are my favorite fruit and growing them and storing them for the winter is something that brings me great pleasure. You should taste my butternut squash soup! Secondly, this is what gardening is all about for me. I plan a garden and plant seeds that turn into long and crazy vines that produce fruit that I can eat and share with my family and friends. Yes, the beetles came and the beetle war sucked up a lot of my time this summer but then the temperature changes, the vines are put into the garbage or compost and I am already starting to plan for next year.