How to Avoid Common Squash Problems

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Perfect winter squashes

Squashes are a staple in many gardens, yielding versatile fruits to spark our culinary creativity. They’re rapid, vigorous growers, but that doesn’t make them entirely trouble-free. Read on or watch our video to discover tips and tricks to get your squash safely over the finishing line, ready to harvest...

Keep Your Squash Plants Healthy

By now your squash should be a riot of lush, healthy foliage. Maintain this steady growth by watering very thoroughly whenever its dry – squashes love moist soil and will respond accordingly.

Remove any weeds that manage to poke through, and top up mulches using organic matter such as garden compost to help roots stay cool and moist. To keep plants tidy, cut off any dead, shrivelled or yellowing leaves.

“Powdery
Prevent powdery mildew using a dilute milk spray

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that forms a white, powdery coating on both sides of the leaves. In the worst cases it will stall growth by preventing the leaves from absorbing enough sunlight.

A common reason behind powdery mildew is irregular watering. This stresses plants, leaving them susceptible to infection, so keep plants well-watered.

If plants do become infected remove affected foliage straight away. A great way to prevent powdery mildew altogether is to mist leaves with a solution of one-third milk to two-thirds water. Spray the milky mixture onto all surfaces, early on a dry, sunny day. Repeat every ten to 14 days throughout the growing season. This milk-water solution can also be used to treat mild infections.

“Supporting
Create a sling to prevent heavy squashes breaking off the vine

Support Your Squashes

Fruits left to swell on the ground can develop blemishes or even rot in wet weather. A simple way to prevent this is to slip a tile or slate under the young fruits as they begin to swell.

Sprawling varieties of squash look stunning trained up vertical supports such as trellising or arches. Be mindful though that vines can potentially tear or collapse under the weight of heavy fruits. Minimise this risk by tying a sling into place for each fruit. Use any old fabric to make them – old tights, as shown in the image above, are perfect.

“Harvesting
Harvest squashes with care to make sure they store in top condition

Harvesting Squashes

Summer squash are harvested the moment they reach a useable size. Just cut them free and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Winter squash and pumpkins – essentially a type of winter squash – are ready as early autumn passes to mid-autumn. You’ll know they are ready because the skins will have hardened so that they can no longer be scratched or pierced with a fingernail. The stems will also have toughened up and the foliage will be starting to die back.

“Curing
Cure squashes somewhere warm and dry before storing

Storing Winter Squash

Winter squash need to be cured before storing to drive off excess moisture. If it’s dry, just leave squashes and pumpkins where they are, to cure outside in the sunshine. If it’s wet or turning colder, bring them inside to finish curing somewhere warm and dry – on a slatted greenhouse bench, for example.

Start by cutting back some of the foliage so you can clearly see the fruits. Now cut them free with a sharp pair of pruners, retaining some of the main stem either side to leave a T-shaped stalk. Cup fruits when carrying them; never hold a fruit by its stem or it might snap off, exposing the flesh to infection.

“Pumpkin
After diligently bringing your squashes to harvest make sure to enjoy your just desserts!

Cured squashes have a very hard, dull skin protecting dense flesh of the most intense flavour. Store them on racks in a cool, dry place, but before you do that, for extra protection you can opt to give the skins a quick wipe over with a mild bleach solution – about one part household bleach to 10 parts water. This serves as a final barrier to rots and moulds.

Squash will store anywhere from a month for spaghetti types, to six months for varieties of hubbard and buttercup squash.

I’m full of expectation for my pumpkins – I’m anticipating a satisfying soup and perhaps a decadent pumpkin pie. What squashes are you growing this summer, and where do you plan to store them? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Comments

 
"Hello Benedict, My guess is that you don't eat pumpkin skins but still, bleach? on your food? After all that effort to grow organic..."
Vera on Wednesday 2 September 2020
"Hi Vera. It really is a very dilute solution and you could use a vinegar solution instead if you wanted to avoid this altogether. The dilute bleach solution is just a belts-and-braces task, to help eke out a bit more storage life from the stored pumpkins. You could, of course, omit this step altogether."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 September 2020
" Hi BEn, The winter squash (Red Kuri)have failed this year! All the flowers mainly male, curled up and fell off after a few days. Is this the result of mildew? as the the leaves lookabit grey. Your views would be appreciated"
Glyn Davis on Monday 14 September 2020
"Hi Glyn. It is normal for the male flowers to fall off, as once they have flowered they won't turn into fruits, so they naturally just drop off. The female flowers should whither and fall off once the fruit has been set. If there were no fruits forming then this is a sign of either very poor pollination or poor growing conditions. The leaves definitely shouldn't have been grey, so would be an indicator of the latter, hence no fruits. "
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 17 September 2020
"Cheers Ben ,Thanks for your update"
Glyn Davis on Thursday 17 September 2020

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