How to Plant and Grow Acorn Squash
To plant acorn squash, begin by finding adequate garden space. Acorn Squash grow on a vine and will take over much of the nearby area. Figure that each hill of plants will need a range of six to eight feet in every direction. The vines are very vigorous and the leaves large so they will shade out other, smaller plants. Look for a sunny spot where the soil will not be too dry or too moist.
Mound up a hill with a hoe. (The hill should be a few inches above the surrounding area and eight to 15 inches across, flat on top.) Soil filled with compost is best, but soil can also be amended with a common garden fertilizer such as miracle grow. Do not over fertilize as this can "burn" the plants.
Unlike planting tomatoes, in most climates, there is no need to start squash in-doors. However, in far northern regions where the season is very short, planting starts may be desirable. To do this plant seeds in pots about four weeks before intended planting time. Keep plants in a sunny spot and the soil moist.
When all danger of frost has past, the seeds or starts may be planted in the hills. Seeds should be planted about an inch below the surface. Initially, thoroughly water the hill to insure germination. Keep an eye on the plants. Soil in the hill should be kept moist, but not wet. Vines are susceptible to some beetles and slugs, especially in the early growing periods. Slugs and snails can be controlled using traps and beetles can be handpicked if they do not become too virulent, in which case sprays may have to be used.
Acorn Squash Bugs and Diseases
Acorn squash can be attacked by rot and diseases. The best defense against these is to take a few precautions. Avoid watering by sprinkler that gets the leaves wet. This can contribute to mildew. If the gourd sits directly on wet soil for long periods it can rot. To avoid this place a wooden shingle or some other object under the fruit. Good weed control can also help prevent the spread of both insects and rots. Mosaic viruses can also be a problem. Disease resistant varieties are available. Crop rotation also helps to avoid the perpetuation of insects and molds. Try not to replant acorn squash in the same spot for three years.
Like other stem attacking insects, the squash vine borer is a major pest. This is the larval stage of the clear winged moth. It eats out the middle of the stems of vines causing the plants to wilt and die. The University of Kansas advises: "Preventive treatments are best. Start to apply insecticides when the vines begin to run. Chemicals used for borer control in gardens are methoxychlor, rotenone, pyrethrum, malathion, or carbaryl (Sevin), applied as sprays or dusts." The borer can be avoided by planting after the larval stage. Planting early can also help the vine to develop enough to withstand the shock of a borer attack. It is difficult to deal with the borer once it has gotten into the vine. In a garden it is feasible for the borer to be cut out with a sharp knife, yet this is a delicate operation. (Bury the wounded part of the vine in the dirt after the operation.) Another possible solution is to inject Bt directly into the stem. (Learn about other stem attacking insects.)
Harvesting Acorn Squash
Acorn squash is ready to harvest when a finger nail cannot puncture the outside. It can stay on the vine for several weeks even after it is ripe. Though the vine may not survive the first frost, the fruits can still be harvested. Acorn squash varieties now come in several colors, including yellow and orange. Nevertheless, traditional varieties are a dark green, often the side which rests on the ground will be orange or yellow. To harvest, the acorn squash can be cut from the vine. Yet it is often easy enough to snap the fruit from the vine. Leave a bit of the stem on the fruit to help preserve moisture. By the time it is harvested there is usually little reason to worry about damaging the vine, as it will soon succumb to winter.
Storing Acorn Squash
Acorn squash will last several months if stored in a cool dry (but not too dry) place. Hot, arid air run over the fruit will dry it out. Uncut, uncooked acorn squash should not be refrigerated, as it does not like temperatures under
50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius). Cooked acorn squash can be refrigerated for about four days. Once cooked, it may also be frozen for extended periods.
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