Sowing this week

This was yet another week with no sowing but a bit of planting out. This week’s task was to plant up the winter squash bed. Some weeks ago I potted on the young squash plants, moving them from the small pots they were sown in into various larger pots of around one litre or so. I used a rich mixture of homemade compost and manure. They have been quite happy to remain in those pots and were not yet pot bound. This is important so as not to check their growth and ensure that they transplant well.

Squash are frost tender and should not be planted out until the chances of frost are remote. Once planted out it is worth paying attention to the weather forecast just in case a surprise late frost is forecast. At this time of year, a covering of a layer or two of fleece should suffice to protect the plants. As it happens, we could have planted out a couple of weeks ago, but I made a whopping mistake last year. Two, in fact. We grow the squash in one of our two annual borders. We rotate each year, the other bed containing a random assortment of overflow planting. Being rather busy with house renovations, I failed to clear the bed at the end of last season. Thanks in part to the mild winter, this bed had become outrageously overgrown with weeds; a combination of the annual pestilence of fat hen with the perennial nightmares of couch grass, thistle, dock, nettles, and various others. This was some of the hardest weeding we have had to undertake, and took several weeks’ work, so the bed was only ready for planting today.

The last patch of heavy weeding

The last patch of heavy weeding

With the main beds, we spread compost or manure, if needed, after clearing them and then cover with weed control fabric. This prevents any weed growth whilst still allowing some water through. The worms deal with the organic matter and the bed is in fantastic condition when uncovered for planting. Even after a winter of horrendous rains, the beds are not at all compacted; excessive water runs off the fabric without damaging the soil.

With the weeds cleared, and no time to spread a layer of compost or manure, we dug large planting holes for each squash, filled them with manure and a sprinkling of fish, blood, and bone, and mixed thoroughly with the surrounding soil. The squash were planted keeping the same level as in the pots. On heavy soils, one may plant on a slight mound, which aids drainage. On our free draining sandy loam this is not necessary, so we planted them level with the surrounding soil. The squash were watered in their pots, and again after planting out.

The squash bed is generally a low maintenance area. A little hoeing may be needed until the squash have developed a good covering of foliage. After a while, though, they will form a dense blanket of growth that will help to keep weed growth down. The occasional watering in dry spells is also needed, but otherwise there is nothing to do until harvest time. Once the squash have been harvested and the foliage cleared, though, we will definitely be covering this bed with membrane so as to avoid the heavy weeding next time.

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