Pumpkins, Zucchini, Squash

These plants all grow in a similar way, but there are differences when seed saving. Best to either hand pollinate (they bear separate male and female flowers on the same plant) or grow one type each year. Curcubita maxima – the pumpkins – have hard skins, need 4-6 months growing season and have good keeping qualities (think Queensland Blue, Jarradale, Gramma, Triamble, Hubbards, etc), Curcubita pepo – the squashes (Button Squash, Scallop Squash, Spaghetti Squash, etc) and zuchinnis – have soft skins and don’t keep well, can be eaten raw, and Curcubita moschata – are the others, smoothed skinned and include butternuts, marrows, crookneck squashes. Anyway, they are all grown during the summer months. But most pumpkins need constraining or growing in places they won’t invade other plots, even training vertically. Zukes tend to grow as bushes so need less space, and are quicker to produce.

The variety you chose to grow is important in our climate (see below) so select wisely if you want to eat well. Bush types generally ripen earlier. Grown as seed you usually plant two seeds closely and can thin the weaker plant – for some reason they like company – and some growers plant them on mounds (better drainage). Or transplant as pairs of seedlings into well prepared soil (compost, lime, rockdust, etc). Bush types can be planted about 50 – 80cm apart and trailing types more than that, in a sunny position.

MAIN TASKS:

Autumn – For pumpkins: once the fruit are ripe, skins thickened, leave them in the garden still attached to the plant until the stalks harden off and shrivel. The fruit will develop flavour. If frosts are about, place leaves or shadecloth over the fruit to shield from the brunt, but they are best left to harden off in the garden for at least a week or two. Cut the stalk 5-10cm from the fruit (and carry by the base not the stalk) to avoid damage and possible bacterial attack which will affect storage. Store in cool, dark, dry spot and they will last for at least 6 months if ripened and harevested correctly. For zukes and squashes: harvest when small, 10cm long or so for zukes, less for squash.Cut about 5cm from stem and handle carefully.

Winter – Nothing happening, but think about crop rotation and where your next lot might grow.

Spring – Start seeds (in hothouse or warm spot) in September so they will be ready to plant as seedlings when the frosts have passed in late October or early November. They need 20 – 25 degrees C soil to germinate. Pumpkins need a long growing season and varieties like Jap and even Butternut tend not to grow well in Newstead (they prefer the northern NSW long warm seasons). Usually, unless we have a season without early frosts, the last few fruit on the vine will not fully ripen – better to choose a smaller, earlier variety like Triamble, Crown or Black Prince, Qld Blue or the Golden Nuggets. They don’t like being transplanted so better to grow in biodegradable pots or soil blocks to minimise planting shock. Water in well. They will need lots of water and feeding as they start to flower (moreso in hot weather, generally lots of male flowers are produced before female flowers start to appear – females have the bump at the base of the flower stalk which will become the fruit)

Summer – Keep up the watering (less later in the season), weeding, feeding (diluted worm juice, compost tea, compost, seaweed/fish emulsion). And corralling – pumpkins will tend to wander all about the garden so best to confine them to places they can or the outer reaches. Mulch well. Avoid overhead watering as this will spread mildew; better a long deep soak every week or less in early morning. Usually a pumpkin plant will only yield two or three fully ripened fruit, so later in the season snip out the flowers to concentrate growth into existing fruit. Late summer make sure fruit aren’t in contact with the soil for the slugs and snails to dine, place on mulch or rockdust to protect skins. Keep harvesting your zukes!

Generally – Watering, weeding and feeding (every two or three weeks). Keep an eye out for powdery mildew (use a milk or seaweed spray as per the strawberries). Pumpkins grow well in a threesome with corn and beans – the corn shade and provide support for climbing and the beans (legumes) provide nitrogen and also benefit from shading. Some growers nip out the main shoots to promote branching when the vines are about 70-80cm long. Others leave them to free rein.

Eating – How many ways with zuchinni? You can use the flowers too; stuffed or battered. And pumpkin, well soup, yes.

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