Squash Growing Conditions

This year the squash got the best sunny spot in my garden, at least some of them did.  I like squash and they take space, so I tend to put hills wherever they might do well.  Besides the sunny patch, I have a few hills in a shady spot and one hill in a raised bed.  You may recall that we had a slow wet spring.  Eventually I was able to till up the squash patch, but not before I had started seedlings in pots.  In the sunny squash patch I seeded the hills directly, as I did in the raised bed hill.  In the shady patch, the soil remained damp, and I was unable to ever get it tilled nicely before I built the hills by hand and set out the transplants.  So, I’m doing the best I can for my conditions.  Lets see what happened!

Here is the sunny patch, now fully filled in with vines, and making lots of nice squashes.  I’ve got four hills of my buttercup/kabocha strain here, as well as hills of delicata, butternut, zucchini, and yellow crookneck.  They are all growing together and expanding into the yard and adjacent garden at the edges.

In the shady squash patch, the vines have not filled in the entire area yet.  The plants aren’t nearly as vigorous, but they will produce some squashes.  This patch probably only gets three or four hours of  sun a day, so anything I plant here will struggle to some extent.  (I’ve noticed that spaghetti squash likes to climb, so I provided a trellis.)

But the real mystery and interesting observation is the hill I planted in the raised bed.

These little bonsai squash plants just won’t grow!  They have water.  I’ve already pulled some nice beets I grew around the periphery of the hill, and the lettuce and amaranth plant are doing okay, so I doubt its entirely a nutrition problem.  The rear two plants are from direct seed; the front plant was a transplant.

I think it has something to do with soil compaction.  The raised beds are no-till areas.  I add compost and manure and work in lightly by hand, but never really break up the soil deeply.  If you pull up a squash plant and look at its roots, you will see that they are rather large and fleshy.  They are just not made for penetrating compacted soil.  This is only the second year for this bed, and it needs much more organic material to soften up our River Road clay-loam natural soil.  I suspect that without real deep tillage, the squash roots just can’t develop to support a large plant.

A peek under the leaves in the sunny patch reveals some nice fruits beginning to get big.  Squash are pretty good at self-regulating  the number of fruit a vine can support.  Only one or two fruit will develop on any particular vine, with the other flowers either just not developing from the beginning, or some immature fruit withering to provide sustenance to a neighbor fruit on the same vine.   It seems like more than my share of hand-pollinated flowers succumb to that fate,  probably because my hand-pollination is not as thorough as that of a honey bee, but there are half a dozen nicely developing fruit with identification tags developing under the leaves to add to my already overwhelming collection of squash seeds.


    1. Fascinating article, Robin! Usually powdery mildew marks the end of the season for my squash plants. Eventually they get it, and the older leaves particularly succumb to the disease. I might have to try the milk idea!

  1. As usual, ‘good eye’, Gary. Yes, without digging/tilling one might just as well plant on the driveway around here. I’m thinking of doing some deep work with small explosives.

    1. Hi MiniMe,
      Those are a ‘buttercup’ variety. I’ve been saving seed on them for a number of years, selecting for flavor and sweetness. They are one of my favorite winter squash varieties. Let them get fully ripe before you harvest them. When you do pick them, clean them up and keep them in a cool dry place for a month before you eat them. Cut in half, scrape the seeds out, and cook plenty long in a slow oven to bring out the sweetness. You will be hooked!

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