Squash tastes better when it comes from your garden.
Although winter squashes are delicious, their rambling vines take up a lot of space. Every square foot in a vegetable garden is valuable real estate, so it may not be worthwhile to grow butternut or acorn — squashes that are easy to find at your local grocery store or farmers market. But red kuri, a teardrop-shaped squash that may be more difficult to track down, is worth making room for. Also known as orange Hokkaido, red kuri squash has a sweet, nutty taste and an edible skin, giving pies and soups a deep orange color and smooth texture. Its weight — three pounds or less — makes it the perfect, approachable squash to grow at home. Here are five tips for growing red kuri squash.
1. Start your seedlings off strong
Red kuri squash takes 90 days to mature, so order your seeds now and plan on starting them in May. Plant two to three seeds in a biodegradable pot like Jiffy. ($13 for 12 pots, amazon.com) After the seedlings emerge, use scissors to cut down all but the strongest stem at the base. After about three weeks, when the seedling looks strong, transplant it to the garden. I plant one squash seedling every three feet in case of the occasional hungry deer or groundhog — if all the squash survive, they can be thinned out later.
2. Lure pollinators with flowers
All members of the cucurbit family — which includes squash — need insects for pollination. To attract pollinating insects such as honeybees and native bees, make sure to plant cosmos, coneflowers, sunflowers, borage, or other flowering plants next to your red kuri.
3. Avoid pests at all costs
Red kuri squash is susceptible to two serious pests: striped cucumber beetle and squash vine borer. The feeding of the striped cucumber beetle can infect the plants with bacterial wilt, a devastating, untreatable disease, and squash vine borers damage plants by tunneling into stems and causing them to wilt and die. Spray insecticidal soap on the plants regularly and after every rainfall, and to prevent fungal diseases from spreading, always water the plants at the base rather than from overhead.
4. Routinely prune the vines
Shortly after the first flush of male flowers, female flowers will produce fruit. Once you see three tiny squashes on a plant, snip off the fuzzy ends of the vines to direct the plant’s energy toward the existing fruit instead of producing more vines. Keep snipping off new vine ends whenever they appear.
5. Leave the stem on
Harvest as early as September, when squashes are deep orange, the skin has hardened, and the stem has dried up. Cut them off the vine with at least two inches of the stem intact. They can be stored for three months in a cool, dark place, but in my family, they’re gobbled up by Thanksgiving.
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