Squashes can produce a high yield of fruits that will store well through the winter. Ideal for soups, stews or roasts.
Sow seeds in early May individually in 7cm pots. Sow about 2cm deep. The pots will need to be kept on a heating mat or a sunny windowsill. Transplant them to larger 12 or 15cm pots after about 3 weeks. Leave the pots indoors or in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Make sure the soil where you are going to grow your squashes has had a decent application of well rotted manure or compost. Harden off the plants well and then plant out in early to mid June. Cover with fleece if it’s cold at nights. Space the plants 2m apart (or 1m apart for bush-varieties) – this seems a lot, but once these babies get moving, there will be no stopping them. They can take over a veg patch, sending shoots here there and everywhere. So probably not a great idea for a small garden. Keep them in check.
When you harvest, depends on whether you are growing summer or autumn squashes. The former is grown to eat in the summer, while the latter is grown for storage. The summer squashes can be harvested as required from August and benefit from regular harvesting – the more you harvest the more prolific the plant will be. Harvest autumn squash in October when the leaves die back or before if there’s a risk of frost. Cut off the squash from the plant leaving the stalk attached to it. If they need to be ripened further put them out in the sun by day, before bringing them in again by night – do this for a week or so. Or leave them on a sunny windowsill to ‘cure’ – this is where the skin hardens up which means they will store for longer. Squashes will store right through the winter.
A key issue with squashes can be failure to set fruit in cold, wet summers. You can help them along by hand pollinating – if this sounds very 'David Bellamy', don’t worry, it’s actually quite straight-forward. You are simply transferring the pollen from the male to the female flower using a soft brush. You can identify which is which by looking at the flower stalk - the male stalk is plain while the female flowers have a small fruit on the stalk.