Growing Squash and Preparing Your Harvest
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If You’re Short on Bees
These days, because of colony collapse disorder or pesticide use of neighbors, some people have so few bees that squash flowers don’t get pollinated. A few summer squash varieties are parthenocarpic, that is, don’t require fertilization to make fruit. But most squash or pumpkins don’t set fruit without fertilization. With no bees, you will have to fill in. Just pollinate the flowers yourself, using methods similar to those I describe in Seed Saving: How to Save Squash Seeds. However, you don’t have to tape buds or flowers. All you need to do is transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers in the morning when the male flowers are releasing their pollen. You have to transfer pollen between flowers of the same species. Pollinate pepo flowers with pepo pollen, for example. Unless you are saving seed, it doesn’t matter whether the flowers are from the same or different plants or the same or different varieties, as long as they are the same species.
Harvesting, Storing and Curing Squash
I don’t harvest squash until the vines die down, or the stems on the squash are too dry or dead to be actively transferring nutrients to the squash, or until frost threatens, whichever comes first. Some years my squash season ends when the vines have all succumbed to powdery mildew. Sometimes I harvest the last of the squash just ahead of the first predicted freeze. Exposure to even a light freeze harms the storage life of the squash. Exposure to a serious freeze ruins the squash.
When we harvest, we don’t want to break the fruit off at the stem, because if we do, the moist, juicy stem scar is vulnerable to mold and storage life drops. Instead, we cut or break the stem in between the fruit and vine so that there is a stub of stem on the fruit. Some varieties snap off easily; most, however, must be cut. Garden shears are the easiest way to do it. Most people will tell you to cut so that you end up with a 1- to 2-inch stub of stem on each fruit. I cut the stems to about 3 to 5 inches long initially, then trim them to the final length of 1 to 2 inches after the fruits have been indoors drying out a few days. If the stem is shorter than 3 to 5 inches, I cut the vine on each side of the stem. Most varieties of squash should not be lifted or handled by the stem, because the fruit will break off. However, some varieties do have sturdy enough attachments to allow handling by the stems. There are always occasional fruits whose stems got knocked off in the field. Eat those first.
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