As many of you know, I’m squash challenged - I’ve been at it for 4 years now with minimal success. Like radishes, it’s the quintessential “easy” vegetable that I just can’t seem to get right. I solved my radish problems this past year, but squash is still a work in progress.
From tiny plants that don’t grow, to the squash vine borer, to powdery mildew, to lack of pollination ... the issues go on and on. If you're interested in all the gory details, I wrote a two-part post on my squash troubles back in 2014.
Early in the season, the performance of the plants growing in the bales was pretty dismal.
|Squash in straw bales in mid-July|
The end result was that every plant I grew in the bales, be it flower or squash, languished for a good couple of months. You can clearly see the difference in the alyssum grown in the bales vs a bed in mid-July:
|Alyssum in straw bale|
|Alyssum in a bed|
Once I realized my error, I increased the frequency of fertilization as well as the amounts (I used both fish emulsion and granular organic fertilizer), but it seemed to make little difference. At this point, I was pretty much resigned to the straw bale failure.
But then, I noticed a definite change in the plants. All of a sudden, they started to put on some good growth and we began to harvest a few squash.
|Straw Bales in mid-September|
I didn't grow all of the squash in straw bales. The one true success this past season was the butternut squash, which I planted in the corn bed on the hilltop. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw those tiny fruits on the vines.
|Baby Butternut Squash|
The first Waltham Butternut harvest
The other two winter squash varieties - Gold Nugget & Sweet Mama - were grown in the straw bales. Unfortunately, I only ended up with one squash from those plants:
And then there was the Tromboncino. Considering it was my favourite summer squash variety in 2014, I still can’t believe that I completely forgot about it last spring. I didn’t realize my gaff until the end of June at which point I sowed some seeds, even thought I was 2 months late and the chance of getting any sort of harvest was significantly reduced. I ended up harvesting one lowly squash – which was certainly better than nothing.
The sole Tromboncino squash harvested this year
One of the big benefits from the late seeding was that I didn’t have to worry very much about the squash vine borer as the moths are done laying their eggs by mid-July. What also stands out is the harvest period. I grew Sure Thing last year & started harvesting in mid-July, almost two months earlier than this year.
Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year
Even though the straw bales didn’t work out as well as I hoped and I forgot about sowing the Tromboncino, I would say that the success of the butternut squash and the promising performance of the bales later in the season made up for it.
As the bales I used last season didn’t decompose that much, I’ll be trying to use them again this coming year. In addition, I’ll purchase a few more bales and this time, I’ll be conditioning them properly, although I still have to figure out how to do that. The amount of organic fertilizer called for in the original book seems excessive (3 cups per bale per day for the first 6 days!) - that would cost me a small fortune.
One of the benefits of using straw bales, of course, is that I’m not limited by bed space which means one thing – I can try more varieties. So I’ll be growing all of the same ones I did this past year PLUS a few new ones. With any luck, 2016 will be my turning point year in the squash department :)