Sizeable squashes

Squash 'Flatso' - © Howard Rice/GAP Photos

Squash ‘Flatso’ – © Howard Rice/GAP Photos

The veg growers among you will have been fervently sowing, pricking out and potting up all spring. No doubt courgettes will have featured on your ‘to grow’ list, but what about their larger than life cousins, pumpkins and winter squashes? Our bet is, that once you’ve tried them they’ll be a kitchen garden essential. Now is the time to move these tender veg outside, so begin hardening off your plants in preparation.

Huge pumpkins are addictive things to grow – varieties like ‘Atlantic Giant’ or ‘Hundredweight’ can reach 20lbs if you neglect them, 200-300lbs if you nurture them, and an eye-watering 2,000lbs if you conceive a record breaker. Switzerland’s Beni Meier is the current World Record Holder (2,323lbs) but while he may have relied upon a polytunnel, daily nutrient tests and mycorrhizal fungi inoculants to gain his showstopper, how can the average grower produce a pumpkin to be proud of? Warmth and water are the two secrets – choose the sunniest, most sheltered spot you can afford, and enrich your plot with ample organic matter which soaks up moisture like a sponge. Sinking an upturned bottle (base removed) next to each plant is a handy way to deliver water straight to the roots. Once the first fruits have set to the size of a grapefruit, remove all but the strongest one or two. Feed regularly with a balanced liquid fertiliser, and water copiously. Allow the meandering stems to root where they lay – this strengthens the vines even further. And (we’re not kidding) cover your pumpkins up with a blanket at night – which keeps them warm and allows them to pile on those crucial pounds.

Of course, size isn’t everything and let’s face it, a pumpkin’s love of water means it doesn’t score highly on the flavour stakes – but this is where winter squashes win hands down. Growing anywhere from the size of a cricketball to football, these nutty, sugar-packed squashes can be roasted, pureed and mashed into all manner of delicious recipes. Allow them to gently ramble under a bed of sweetcorn or over a compost heap, don’t thin out the fruits and come autumn you’ll have on average half a dozen or so per plant to store in a warm, dry spot all winter. ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’, ‘Crown Prince’ and ‘Uchiki Kuri’ are just three favourites on our sowing essentials list. Tweet us yours @GAP_Gardens