Protect your squash crop from pests and disease: Learn what to look for and how to treat your plants to keep them happy and healthy.
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Use Yellow Against Pests
The joy of growing vegetables can be ruined by plant pests or diseases. If you find slight plant damage, there are a few things you can do before spraying herbicides. Squash and pumpkin are subject to the same diseases that attack cucumbers and melons, namely the vine borer.
The vine borer bug resembles a wasp and lays its reddish eggs at the base of susceptible plants. The larvae bore into the stems blocking the flow of water to the rest of the plant. One way to rid your plants of the vine borer is with the color yellow.
To find out if your plants have borers, place a yellow dish or yellow pan among the squash plants. Then fill the pan with water. Be sure to check the dish daily to see if the bugs are on the dish and then discard the water away from the garden. As a last resort, you can destroy the borer by spraying an approved pesticide around the base. Your local garden center can recommend the proper pesticide.
You can also protect developing squash from soil-borne disease and insects by placing them on a flowerpot, tin can, brick or block of wood. Up in the air, away from the cool damp ground, they ripen faster and develop better color and flavor.
Keep Away Mice, Birds
Mice are also known to occasionally gnaw on the flesh of ripening pumpkins and squashes, but they really love to eat squash seeds! Keeping the area weeded and hoed can deter mice. Instead of placing mousetraps in your garden, you can place glue boards made of sticky materials that stops mice in their tracks as they walk across the boards. You can also protect ripening squash from birds and other pests by slipping a pair of pantyhose over each squash.
Squash needs very little weeding but if you experience heavy weed growth, you should do some shallow weeding with a hoe. Pumpkins have feeder roots near the surface and the roots grow to about the same size as the vines. This makes weeding difficult. Be especially careful when cultivating near the main stems and do not move them after the fruit have formed because they are brittle and can easily break.
Winter squash should be left on the vine until the rinds are hard. Now you want to harvest the squash crop when it is at its peak of tenderness and flavor. Winter squash is ready when the stems begin to shrivel, split and dry. By then the plants usually appear ragged as well.
To harvest the squash, use pruning shears to cut the fruits from the vine, leaving a short 2-inch stub of stem attached. If you prefer, you can use a sharp knife to cut away the squash – just be sure to wear gloves during harvest because the stems may have sharp spines on them that might irritate your skin. Leave squash in the sun to cure for 10-14 days. This curing sweetens the flesh and toughens the skin for storage.
Guard Skin against Rot
Once the squash has been harvested, you should wipe the cured skin with a cloth dipped in a weak bleach solution of 4 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water. Wiping the skin with this solution will help prevent rot. Let the fruit dry and do not rinse until you use the squash.
You do not want to pile squash more than two fruits high; this could cause bruising. Bruises will discolor them and cause them to soften and decay. Injured produce spoils quickly. Every so often, a squash will have a barely visible nick – this is where rot begins, and the next thing you know, the squash will dissolve into mush.
You should store the squash in a dry, cool and well-ventilated spot were the temperature is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, when possible. Winter squash will keep from one to three months, depending upon the variety. You want to place the squash on something soft like thick pads of newspaper or clothes to prevent bruising.
Harvest Pumpkins Later
Winter squash matures a lot faster than the pumpkins. You should leave pumpkins on the plants until the vines begin to turn yellow and die back. Again, like with the squash, the pumpkins are ready when the stems begin to split. The pumpkins are ready to harvest when they have reached their mature color: deep, rich orange.
Harvest pumpkins in much the same way as winter squash, cutting the fruit from the vine and leaving a 2-inch stem. Snapping the stems from the vines will result in many broken or missing "handles." Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Mature pumpkins may be kept outside through light fall frosts, but bring them in before hard freezes come.
Using pruning shears, cut the pumpkin from the vines making sure to leave a 2 to 4-inch stem on the fruit. Next, carefully place the pumpkins in a sunny spot for about a week so that the skins could fully harden. After they cure outside in the sun, wipe the pumpkins down with a clean damp cloth and then store the pumpkins in a cool, dry place. In a garage or basement, pumpkins will keep for up to six months
Do not store pumpkins and squash near apples and pears. These and other ripening fruit release ethylene gas, which will hasten the decay of stored squash. To store squash under refrigeration, it must be cut up and frozen. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash and they will deteriorate quickly.