Ground rules and tools for May

 

May 03, 2007

BY CLIFF KNEZEK - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER INTERN EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

 

WHAT WOULD TASTE BETTER THAN SUMMER SQUASH GROWN IN YOUR OWN VEGETABLE GARDEN?

During early times in Texas, only hard-shelled squashes and pumpkins were grown, and these were stored as an over-wintering food crop by Agrarian Indians in East Texas.

 

Today, there is tremendous genetic variation in size, shape, color and taste of the fruit that is grown for fresh market sales and home use along with the hard-shelled winter squashes.

 

Within the general three types of squash for home use, there are many yellow, green and scallop varieties from which to choose. Some of the best yellow straightneck varieties include Burpee's butterstick, Dixie, multipik, golden girl, goldbar, lemon drop L, General Patton, gold spike, PS-391, smoothie and sun drops. The better yellow crookneck varieties are early golden, goldie, supersett, Meigs, sunrise, goldslice, medallion, prelude II and liberater III.

 

The best green zucchini varieties include president, enterprise, goldrush (a yellow zucchini), senator, tigress and independence II.

 

And lastly are the scallop type squashes such as sunburst, white bush and Peter Pan. All varieties are unique and good!

 

FOLLOW MOTHER NATURE

 

To have a successful squash crop, follow Mother Nature's guidelines. You will need to know your local frost dates, which govern your planting times for summer squash. Generally in this area, the last frost date is about Feb. 10. One to four weeks after the frost-free date is the best time to start planting squash.

 

A good soil with a sunny location and good drainage and subsurface drainage is necessary. Summer squash grows best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Optimum growing conditions are warm to moderate air temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees.

 

IN OR OUT

 

 Summer squash can be grown from seed or plants. Seed planting can be done indoors (if you are pushing Mother Nature to plant early) or outdoors. Outdoor planting seeds sprout easily in sandy or organic soil. If the soil is heavy with a high silt or clay content, the seeds should be covered only 2 to 3 times their diameter.

 

Generally plant seeds to a depth of 1/2 to 1 inch using rows about 36 to 60 inches apart.

 

Choice of beds

 

Summer squash can be grown in raised beds or garden plots. The raised bed or growing bed is the basic unit of an intensive garden. This bed system allows the gardener to concentrate soil preparation in small areas. Beds should be 3 to 4 feet wide and as long as desired. Working from either side of the bed will reduce soil compaction caused by walking on the bed.

 

The key to successful intensive gardening is soil preparation. Since plants will be growing close together, plants should have adequate nutrients and water. A deep fertile soil, rich in organic matter and humus, will hold extra nutrients. These intensive raised beds are extra work but are excellent due to the drainage.

 

Garden plots or planting beds should be at least 3 by 9 feet. Rows should be divided in short segments to prevent planting too much of the plant at one time. Longer rows would produce sufficient squash to can or freeze.

 

To prepare a hill for squash for intensive gardening, dig a hole about 18 inches deep and wide. Put 3 to 4 inches of compost or well-rotted cow manure in the bottom of the hole, then fill the hole with a mixture of three parts soil (use the soil from the hole) and one part compost or cow manure forming a mound about 4 inches high.

 

For less intensive gardening, plant squash on a raised, mulched bed tilled 6 inches deep.

 

Space hills for bush squash 4 to 5 feet apart; semi-bush squash about 5 to 6 feet apart; and vine squash about 10 feet apart. When plants start to bloom or crawl along the ground, scatter 1/3 cup of 5-10-5 fertilizer around each plant and mulch with 6 inches of straw or hay.

 

 

PHOTO BY LESA BOWERS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER INTERN

As squash vines begin to grow, male and female yellow flowers appear on the same vine. The flower in the forefront is the male flower created only to ensure pollination. These are easily identified by straight stems. Female flowers have swollen stems or ovules just behind the blossom.

 

 

POLLINATION

 

As the squash vine begins to grow, male and female yellow flowers appear on the same vine. The male flowers (straight stems) are created only to ensure pollination. Female flowers (swollen stems) are usually produced later which delays fruit setting and many times worries gardeners as to "Why hasn't my squash set fruit?"

 

Bees are the main method of pollination. If there are no bees present, the flowers won't get pollinated. It's a tedious task, but in order to help pollination, some gardeners remove a male flower and use it to rub it into and hand pollinate the female flower.

 

 

 

IRRIGATION

 

Without adequate rain, it is necessary to water regularly. Don't let the plant wilt for long periods of time or poor fruit quality will result. Drip irrigation or down-the-row watering is best. If sprinkling, water only early morning as water on the leaves concentrate the sun's rays and can cause scorching of the leaves and excessive wetting hours in late evening can result in diseases.

 

When to water is not determined by whether the top 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry, but whether the soil is dry at the depth of the growing roots. Summer squash roots may grow to the depth of 6 to 18 inches.

 

Mulching with leaves and grass around the plants will minimize irrigation and produce higher quality, better tasting squash.

 

HARVESTING

 

The average harvest season for squash lasts about 40 days after about 40 days of initial growth. The normal expected yield from three to five hills of any one variety should be sufficient for a family of four. Summer squash should be harvested while their skins are tender and before seeds get hard. Pick yellow straightneck or crookneck squash when they are 4 to 6 inches long and zucchini when they are 6 to 8 inches long. For best quality, squash needs to be picked daily - with the older, mature squash removed to insure continuous new flower and squash production.

 

WHAT TO DO IN YOUR GARDEN IN MAY

May 03, 2007

 

*Cut off old blossoms on spring flowering annuals to prolong the flowering season.

*Continue to fertilize roses every four to six weeks with small amounts of a balanced fertilizer.

*Prune climbing roses after their spring bloom season.

*Allow foliage of spring flowering bulbs to mature and yellow before removing.

*Replace or replenish mulch materials in flowerbeds and shrub borders to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth.

*Plant caladium tubers, petunias, impatiens, begonias and torenias in shady areas.

*There is still time to sow directly into the soil seeds of sunflower, zinnia, morning glory, portulaca, marigold, cosmos, periwinkle and gourds. Achimenes, cannas, dahlias and other summer flowering bulbs can also be planted in May.

 

 

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.