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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019
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Squeeze some squash into your life

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with the ideal veg for soup, stews and roasts.

Michael Kelly Grower

MOST IRISH PEOPLE have never tasted any squash other than the ubiquitous butternut. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a fine variety. But there are literally dozens of others you can try when you grow them yourselves.

My own personal favourite is the wonderful giant Crown Prince squash which has an eerie blue skin and the sweetest orange flesh inside.

They are a fantastic veg to grow because they will store well through the winter thanks to their thick skins. Ideal for soups, stews or roasts, there is nothing better than hacking open a squash in the bleak mid-winter to reveal the beautiful orange flesh beneath.

Sowing

To grow from seed you will need to sow in early May individually in 7cm pots. Sow about 2cm deep. The pots will need to be kept on a heating mat or a sunny windowsill.

Transplant them to larger 12 or 15cm pots after about 3 weeks. Leave the pots indoors or in a greenhouse or polytunnel.

It is too late at this time of the year to sow them from seed, but you could still buy a squash plant from a garden centre and grow it yourself at home.

Source: clairegren/Flickr Creative Commons

Growing

Make sure the soil where you are going to grow your squashes has had a decent application of well rotted farmyard manure or compost. Harden off the plants well and then plant out in early to mid June.

Cover with fleece if it’s cold at nights.

Space the plants 2m apart (or 1m apart for bush-varieties). This seems a lot, but once these babies get moving, there will be no stopping them. They can take over a veg patch, sending shoots here there and everywhere. So they’re probably not a great idea for a small garden. You can keep them in check by gently pinning or pegging down the shoots.

You could grow them in a large pot also but because they are a hungry and thirsty plant, you will need to make sure to keep them well supplied with food and water.

Make sure to start off with a good mix of topsoil and well rotted manure or compost (all of which you can now buy in bags from good garden centres) and once the plant is established, feed it every 10 days with a good quality organic liquid feed (suitable for fruiting plants).

Harvesting

When to harvest depends on whether you are growing summer or autumn squashes. The summer squashes benefit from regular harvesting – the more you harvest the more prolific the plant will be.
Harvest winter squash in October when the leaves die back or before if there’s a risk of frost. Cut off the squash from the plant leaving the stalk attached to it.

If they need to be ripened further put them out in the sun by day, before bringing them in again by night – do this for a week or so.

You can also leave them on a sunny windowsill to ‘cure’ – where the skin hardens up which means they will store for longer. Squashes will store right through the winter.

Recommended Varieties

Summer Squash: Sunburst F1
Autumn Squash: Butternut, Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Turk’s Turban, Uchiki Kuri.

Problems

A key issue with squashes can be failure to set fruit in cold, wet summers. You can help them along by hand pollinating. If this sounds very David Bellamy, don’t worry, it’s actually quite straight-forward.

You simply transfer the pollen from the male to the female flower using a soft brush. You can identify which is which by looking at the flower stalk – the male stalk is plain while the female flowers have a small fruit on the stalk.

GIY Tips

  • Grow them somewhere sheltered – they don’t like wind.
  • Protect young plants from slugs in early stages.

Recipe of the Week – Spicy Roast Squash and Lentils

Source: Rebecca Bollwitt/Flickr Creative Commons

Pack in an impressive 3 of your 5-a-day with this spicy vegetarian lentil dish filled with roast butternut squash, peppers and onions. This recipe is from Good Food Magazine.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-medium squash (about 950g/2lb 2oz)
  • 1 red onion, halved and thickly sliced
  • 3 peppers
  • (a mix of red, orange and yellow from a pack), deseeded and cut into 1cm or ½ in-wide strips
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp curry paste
  • 2 x 400g cans puy lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 150ml hot vegetable stock
  • large handful coriander, chopped

Directions
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

Using a sharp knife, peel the butternut squash. Cut it in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1cm-thick slices widthways across the squash.

Put the squash slices in a large roasting tin with the onion, peppers and garlic.

Mix the oil with the curry paste and drizzle over the vegetables. Toss well to coat in the curry mix and season.

Roast for 30 mins until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the lentils and stock to the roasting tin and mix.

Return to the oven for a further 5-10 mins until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the coriander and serve straight away.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Carve out a space in your garden for pumpkin

Read: Earthy, homely and tasty: how to grow parsnips for this winter

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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