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Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early

I’m all about pumpkins—big, tiny, huge, warty, orange, white, or striped, if it’s a pumpkin I love it. Squash catch my eye with their lumps and bumps, smooth skin and deeply carved lobes. Both get bonus points for excellent flavor and long-term storage ability. Varieties the deer like are on my list. I bought pumpkins for the deer last fall and they’re still sitting in the food plot, nibbled on and passed up. If I grow a variety that’s new to us and we end up not liking the texture or flavor the poultry will probably devour it in the middle of winter. Being limited to one hundred dependable frost free days a year doesn’t allow for some of the pumpkin and squash varieties I love. It means starting pumpkins and squash early gives me the best chance of successfully growing some of my favorites.

It isn’t safe to plant our pumpkins and squash seedlings outdoors until the soil warms and the danger of frost passes in early June. Trays of six packs sit in the bay window to warm in the sun, on a shelf above my desk, and under grow lights where the soil stays a little warmer. On warm, still or barely breezy days I move the seedlings outside so they don’t stretch to reach light. Make sure the grow light is no more than two inches from the top of the seedling and adjust as the plants grow. If they’re getting tall and weak the light is too far away. A fan gently blowing around the seedlings will help strengthen the stems.

How to Transplant Vine Crops

Most of us have probably heard “you can’t transplant vine plants.” You can as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

  • First, don’t start the seeds too early. I plant mine in six packs and individual pots three to four weeks prior to when I expect to transplant them into the garden. Seedlings that have no more than two sets of true leaves transplant easier than older plants that are susceptible to transplant shock.
  • Second, choose containers that are large enough to support root growth without the plants becoming root bound. I try to avoid moving the seedlings into larger pots before transplanting to the garden but it’s sometimes unavoidable. Use a container larger in width and depth than you expect to need.
  • Third, keep the seedlings under grow lights and outdoors as much as possible. If they have inadequate lighting they’ll stretch toward the nearest light source, as plants do, and become leggy. Vine crops have very wet, somewhat fragile stems. Leggy stems are weaker than short, dense stems.

Prepare the Soil

Prepare the soil before transplanting day. You’ll need rich soil to support the plants through maturity and might want to side dress later in the season.

Mounds warm up faster than flat soil. IRT (infrared transmissible) mulch will warm the soil and has the added benefit of blocking weeds. Low tunnels will help you get an early start with vine crops. A low tunnel with IRT provides two to three weeks of extra time by setting them up early to warm the soil. Short growing seasons don’t have to strictly limit us to varieties that mature in under 100 days. Starting pumpkins and squash early add varieties to what you can grow in your short-season garden.

Planted Today- June 7, 2016

Planted Today- June 7, 2016

Planted Today

I planted today! A lot. I got a lot done. There’s a little more I’d like to have planted today but it rained, and I was getting cold dressed in just a t-shirt with my jeans.  It was cool and cloudy when I started working in the high tunnel, then the sun came out and warmed the tunnel to well over 80°, five degrees above my melting point. I moved outside to the regular garden. The sunshine was brief, followed by sprinkles of rain, followed by a breeze, followed by rain, followed by hot and sweaty me getting wet and chilly. Water dripped down my bangs, into my eyes and down my nose. Gross. That’s enough.

There’s plenty of time for things like the winter storage carrots next week. I still have the next and last succession planting of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (red, storage) and Brussels sprouts to seed. The pole beans will be planted next week. So much to plant still.

I’m listening to the pouring rain fall steadily. It’s raining so hard there’s a small stream running down the side of the road. We need this rain for the garden and pond, and for the lakes, ponds and streams that are lower now than they usually are on July 4. The cedar in the wood stove crackles and snaps as the fire catches. Just a small fire, enough to take the damp chill out of the house and make it cozy while I sip my wine and listen to Jason Isbell. Supper? hmm… Undecided still. I should have cut Swiss chard and spinach but since I didn’t, and since I’m not going back out until after supper, that’s not what we’ll be eating.

Here’s my list of what I planted today. * indicates varieties that are new to me.

  • Purple Top White Globe turnip
  • Cherry Belle radish
  • Early Wonder Tall Top beets

The turnip, radish and beets were scattered together over a bed.

In the high tunnel:

  • Top Hat OP Yellow corn*
  • Costata Romanesca OP zucchini
  • Jackpot zucchini

Back outside:

  • Harris Model parsnip
  • Sweet Annie

Musque de Provence, planted today

Wyatt's Wonder, Renee's Garden, planted todayPumpkins:

  • Wyatt’s Wonder
  • Cheese
  • Route Vif D’Etampes
  • Lumina White
  • Winter Luxury Pie*
  • Musque De Provence
  • Baby Pam
  • Long Pie*
  • Champion
  • Spookie (courtesy of Renee’s Garden)

Some of the pumpkins will be eaten by us and others by the deer, and some are for decoration. The decorative pumpkins will be fed to the chickens and ducks or the deer next winter.

Winter Squash

  • Seminole*
  • Burpee’s Butterbush Butternut*
  • Waltham Butternut
  • Marina Di Chioggia
  • Galeux d’Eysines
  • Jarrahdale
  • Sweet Dumpling
  • Blue Hubbard.

If we have a wet summer I’ll cover the root ends of the blue Hubbard plants with a low tunnel to keep them from taking up too much water. Blue Hubbard tends to be wet, and we prefer dry squash. We grow dry squash but we like the flavor of Blue Hubbard, especially when dry.

The rain has turned from pouring to monsoon, back to pouring, and down to a steady rain. The seeds are well watered now. I won’t have to water again anytime soon. What did you get planted today?