All squashed up

Over the years my experience as a volunteer – whether it be a girl-guide leader or a weed picker – has taught me that volunteers are happy in their work in even the harshest conditions, probably because they choose to be there and are there for no other reason than they want to be. This applies to plants too!

This year, I carefully planned out my raised beds, following scale drawings of where I would plant my warm season vegetables. I planted seeds and lovingly tended to them. Some grew and others well… struggled. Meanwhile, in a far distance corner of the garden, a host of squash plants germinated. They were ignored as I poured love and care over the plants I had in my raised beds. I didn’t even water the volunteers. And now they have outgrown the chosen ones and look fantastic, and I can’t claim any of the credit.

So what happened? Well, some of this is elementary, my dear Watson. The volunteers popped up where I had emptied the compost bins, before I spread mulch after removing lava rock, back in the spring. No mystery there. However, I know that I only had pumpkin seeds and seeds from butternut squash. And here’s what has grown.

Pumpkins sure:

And something approximating a butternut squash:

Then we have a selection of different shaped, colored and sized squash – some that remind me of acorn squash and others I’ve never seen before.

So what’s all this about? Well, still not a huge mystery – at least not to a gardener. Squash plants are, shall we say, promiscuous. The female flowers can be pollinated by lots of different varieties of squash, such that, unless you have those little ladies under wraps (a plastic bag will do) they will be pollinated by any squash pollen that a bee presents. The fruit is already genetically coded for so, if you know you have a butternut squash seed from a butternut plant that has only been subjected to butternut pollen (seed packets should guarantee this), then you will get a butternut squash fruit no matter what pollinates it. But if you seed save from a squash that has been open pollinated then you won’t know what you may get. That is, the fruit does not guarantee what type of offspring you will get. So, in this case the butternut squash and the pumpkins seed I had thrown in the compost were obviously  pollinated by pollen from a variety of different squashes.

The the real mystery is this – what happened to my carefully tended squash?

Here are the pumpkins I planted.

Not even fruiting!

And the sibley I had such high hopes for.

My candy roaster was a complete disaster.

Especially when you compare it with the volunteers.

The bottom line is that the soil in my raised beds is tired. It really needs some serious soil amendment before I put in  the winter garden. I was still able to eat from the garden all summer, but I don’t have much by way of surplus (except for pole beans!).

My friend Judy gave me a pumpkin seedling which I planted in an “overflow” bed – a small bed where I had cut out a shrub and instead of digging up its roots I covered it in compost and wood chips – and it has really taken off.

One huge pumpkin and the vine is 10-15 feet long.

Mystery solved – So with out any further BS it’s time to break out the steer manure!

But another mystery alludes me – how will I know when to harvest my mystery squashes?

Byddi Lee

3 replies to All squashed up

  1. Steer manure is a great amendment. I bet your plants will happier next year after you beef up the soil. Pun intended, 🙂

  2. We hauled copious amounts of free horse manure from the local stable last winter, and amended our squash bed with that. The soil there had never been gardened in, and was truly awful. I have to say, it worked absolute wonders, and we'll definitely do the same this year. The trouble is, our squash grew so well in that bed that it provided too much cover for voles, who did more than their fair share of damage. Our cultivated tomatoes though this year, are like your tended squash plants, and compared to the volunteers are something of a disaster. We were hit for the first time with fusarium wilt (possibly secondary to the early spring vole damage to those plants). Some volunteers that popped up late though look good, but likely won't fruit before the warm (if you could call it that) weather fades this season. Your volunteer pumpkins look fabulous though. Our rogue crosses usually end up as chicken food, as often they tend to be rather lacking in flavor.

  3. What a fun twist on things! I wish the volunteers in my garden were all as welcome as your volunteers… BTW, I agree with Ms. Curbstonevalley about getting horse manure. There are stables in the area that will be happy to share their bounty, and it's great for fruit and veggies.

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