Members of the Cucurbitaceae or squash family, either produce few if any fruit or an overabundance. Given the idea growing conditions they produce a prolific amount of fruit. Remove any of the necessities: heat, moisture, pollinating insects or nutrients and the plants struggle.
Cucurbitaceae seeds rot when planted in cold wet soil. Likewise, plants like to have warm feet and will either sit stagnant or rot is planted in cold wet soil. Either wait for the soil to warm naturally or place a sheet of polly-spun cloth or plastic down to warm the soil before planting. Another alternative is to plant in containers or raised beds.The plants themselves are susceptible to frost and should either be covered or not planted outside until there isn’t a danger of frost.
Water plants carefully in cool weather as they will be putting out minimal growth. As the temperatures increase, increase the amount of moisture. When fruit begins to develop increase the water again to encourage fruit development. This being said, do not overwater.
One of the characteristics that set the squash family apart is the fact that they produce two distinct flowers; male and female. As female flowers develop they have what appears to be a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. If pollinated, the fruit will grow and mature. When the flower is not pollinated, the flower and fruit fall from the plant. Even with a large bee and insect population not all female flowers become pollinated as it requires an insect to visit the male flower then the female one. With the exception of zucchini, the male and female flowers are often a few feet apart and might not be on the insects path.
Pollinating is easy. It is a case of taking the pollen from a male flower and moving it on the pistol of the female flower. This can done with a stick with a cotton tip or by picking the male flower and rubbing it on the female one. Best results are obtained with morning pollination as the female flowers are only open for a limited amount of time.
Blossom end rot can be a problem in with squash. It is when the fruit starts to grow but starts to rot from the flowering end. It is not a disease but is considered a physiological disorder that will not spread from plant to plant. Correct the problem and the plant will produce edible produce.
Blossom end rot is caused by the plant not being able to take in and transport calcium to the fruit. This can be caused by lack of calcium in the soil but it is more likely a problem of acidic soil, too much nitrogen, improper watering or too cool or hot temperatures.
When soil is acidic, a pH below 5.5, the calcium in the soil bound to other nutrients and is not available for the plants to grow and develop fruit. The same results occur if squash plants have access to too much nitrogen as the plant will transport the nitrogen encouraging plants to put on new growth as opposed to moving calcium..
Typically, fruit contain a high percentage of water. Plants need extra water at this time to develop the fruit and to transport nutrients such as calcium throughout their system. That being said, too much moisture over a prolonged length of time will cause the roots to rot meaning less calcium uptake.
It is impossible to predict or control the weather unless the garden is undercover. It is a matter of trying to keep the soil damp but not sodden and the plants warm. When everything falls into place be sure to share with friends, neighbors and the food bank.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at email@example.com