Squash farming – Butternut, pumpkins, butternut squash…

Each year, my pumpkin crops make up a significant portion of my diet from fall through the following spring.

By varying the pleasures…

In addition to the many recipes based on pumpkin (delicious soups, gratins, purees, stuffed pumpkin, etc.), each variety (and there is something to be done about it) has very different taste qualities.

And this with only 4 or 5 plants.

So of course you need some space to grow squash (although… you can put some trellis on trellises, fences…).

But the game is really worth it, especially since growing squash is not very complicated.

You think?

Come on, fertilize, sow, plant, maintain, prune or not, harvest… I tell you everything to succeed in your pumpkin cultivation:

Squash types and varieties

There are several varieties (in bold below) of squash, itself including subspecies (in italics below)… within which there are still many varieties:

  • pepozucchini (Black beauty, round from Nice, gray from Algiers, Zuboda…), Pattypan Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Naked Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Jack O’Lantern
  • maximumpumpkins (bright red from Etampes, bronze from Monthléry, Gross yellow from Paris, blue from Hungary, etc.), pumpkins (Red Kuri, Solor…), Embroidered gourds, Hubbard gourd, Griraumon
  • maschatabottle gourd Butternut, Sucrien, from Provence, Long from Nice…
  • mixedMexican pumpkin
  • ficifoliasiamese pumpkin

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Crosses between squash varieties

Since I am often questioned on this subject, and because this misinformation is circulating a lot, it seems important to clarify things: you can grow different types of squash in your garden, and regardless of the distance (in any case, a squash can be pollinated by a others a few hundred meters away)… The pumpkins you harvest are those of the sown variety

On the other hand, if you want to keep the seeds of your pumpkin as seeds for the following year, it’s very different… because there is a high risk of crossing and the seeds in the fruits will be the result of this crossing. The distance between your plants in your garden doesn’t change (I remind you that a flower can be pollinated by a flower from a plant several hundred meters away… over which you have no control). Indeed, to ensure a faithful reproduction of the variety whose seeds you want to keep, you will have to isolate the flowers… But this is another subject, not so simple as that, which we are elaborating here.


pumpkin cultivation

Fertilizing a squash crop

A squash crop appreciates soils rich in organic matter.

A plot enriched with manure the previous fall (not in the spring… too many health risks) and covered with straw, hay or dead leaves is perfect for squash.

You can also grow squash on an old compost pile or on your lasagna mounds.

If this fails, a contribution of mature compost (a good scoop per foot) mixed with the planting hole soil will meet the needs of your pumpkin crops.

During cultivation, comfrey treatments will strengthen the pumpkin plant and promote fruiting.

pumpkin seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings in pot
Pumpkin seedlings in pot

With sufficient temperature (above 16°C) pumpkin seeds germinate in a few days and the plants grow quickly.

Don’t rush to sow them either…just wait until the conditions are right.

Let’s take a concrete look at when and how to sow squash:

  • In the nursery, warm (in the greenhouse or indoors), in large pots (minimum 10 x 10 cm) from mid-April to mid-May
  • Directly in the ground in May (from mid-May if frost is possible in your area): sow 3 seeds in bags with a distance of 1 m (non-spurts) to 2 m (spurts) in all directions. Protection against snails (which can devour a young seedling at night…) is recommended: ferns or wood ash around the seedling. Shortly after emergence, keep only the most vigorous plant (discard the others, or if they are beautiful, transplant elsewhere)

The young pumpkin plants, just out of the ground, very popular with snails, and the frequent rain in the house in May, I prefer to sow in the nursery (around mid-April) and plant them well-developed in mid-May ( I might be able to catch up a bit ” by sowing directly into the ground).

But as always, you need to consider your own growing conditions. In a dry climate, for example, direct seeding can be considered…

Plant the gourds

Mulch Squash
The pumpkins are isolated from the ground thanks to a good thickness of straw

Hot sown plants are planted in the open ground (or on lasagna mounds) from mid-May:

  • Prepare planting holes the height of your buckets (if the soil is a little hard at the bottom of the hole, loosen it to aid initial root development)
  • Mix a little well-matured compost with the extracted soil
  • Place the plant with its root ball at the bottom of the hole and make sure that the top of the root ball is level with the ground (unlike, for example, tomatoes, the plant should not be buried too much)
  • Fill the planting hole with your mix of soil and compost
  • Lightly tamp around the plant by hand
  • Water abundantly after planting and then mulch (not only will you save water and limit watering work, but the pumpkin will not come into contact with the soil…which can damage them)

Trellising the squash crop?

If your vegetable area is limited, you can climb the pumpkin on trellises (e.g. wooden, iron construction grates or solid wire mesh).

The vegetation will therefore not spread on the ground, but in the height on these fences.

Especially for large pumpkins (but be careful with pumpkins or squash), on the other hand, it is necessary to plan and install devices to hold the pumpkin (for example, you can firmly fix bags of potatoes or any kind of canvas, to your support and let the fruit rest on it)… otherwise the stem is in great danger of breaking under the weight of the fruit.

Associations with squash

Squash is a plant with strong development. As a result, the associations are not very applicable (the pumpkin vegetation threatens to suffocate neighboring crops, etc.).

However, you can try the association known as the 3 sisters: corn, pole beans, pumpkin (the corn serves as a stake for the beans and the pumpkin spreads on the ground).

Cultivation of a pumpkin crop

to water

If it is warm at the beginning of the vegetation, water every 3/5 days.

After that, an abundant watering at the foot (which is not necessarily self-evident due to the development of the vegetation… the installation of a drip irrigation system at the start of cultivation is an interesting solution) every 7/10 days will be more than enough if you have mulched (watering too often will harm flowering).

cut gourds?

It is often recommended to prune squash plants (for example, see here how to do that)…

I did this when I started…but I completely gave up on this practice years ago.

It is indeed not very interesting… except perhaps for faster fruit set (but in most cases isn’t it better to follow the natural rhythms? However, if you plant late, and a fortiori in a region with early frosts in September pruning are useful)

Also prune the pumpkin if you want to enter a competition for the largest pumpkin (you will only be left with one fruit per plant).

Moreover, the wounds caused by pruning will be real gateways for cryptogamic diseases, such as powdery mildew, for example.

Pests and Diseases

The cultivation of squash eventually encounters relatively few problems.

But it is common, especially in hot and humid weather (or dry for certain varieties…), for a pumpkin crop to be affected by thepowdery mildew, the most common disease in cucurbits. See the article on powdery mildew.

The aphids are attracted by the exuberant vegetation (or rather, by the abundant sap circulating there) of the gourds. See the article on aphids.

Pumpkin harvest

A large variety of pumpkin will give you 1 to 4 fruits, while a smaller variety (butternut, pumpkin, etc.) will generally produce between 3 and 8 fruits.

Pumpkins ready to harvest
The leaf is faded, the peduncle is dry. This Provence butternut squash has acquired its ripe fruit color… it is ready to be harvested

When to Harvest a Pumpkin?

A pumpkin is good to harvest at the end of the season, when the foliage has partially withered and the stem (the stem that connects the fruit to an offshoot of the plant) of the fruit is dry.

For better storage, the pumpkin should be harvested as late as possible in the fall, but they cannot withstand frost…

Harvest in dry, sunny weather (excessive humidity can affect storage).

How to harvest pumpkin?

In order not to damage the fruit by detaching it from the plant, cut the stem (continuously for several centimeters) with pruning shears.

Wipe the harvested fruits with a dry cloth to remove the impurities present on the skin.

store pumpkin

pumpkin harvest
These varied gourds are drying on the ground for a few days

After harvesting, let the pumpkin ripen and dry (I’m talking about the skin) outside for 1 or 2 weeks… But put them inside at night if the weather is rainy or if frost is expected.

If possible, store them in an unheated, or moderately heated room in your house (12-16°C are ideal temperatures for storage; but if it’s 19 or 20°C, it will be fine too).

Are you successful with your squash harvest? Share your tips, your know-how in the comments below…

Your questions are also welcome.