Thursday, January 28, 2010

Triffid Squash

Hi there Scotsburn
I planted three Yellow Squash and I have some concerns about the correct identification of these plants.
First, the vine is 10 metres long. Almost every single flower is male. The very few female flowers have developed a fruit that is green and perfectly round. Most of these fruits soon turn yellow and fail to thrive.
I am sceptical that these fruits will ever flatten out and develop scalloped edges.
Is it possible the plants were mislabelled? The label states:
SQUASH  Yellow Ruffles
If they are not yellow squash, what are they?


Photo by  Robert Couse-Baker 
Wow!  Where do I start?  My first reaction is always to check that we have labeled correctly.  It’s very embarrassing when we get labeling wrong.  You know “I planted soft pink Petunias for my daughters wedding and they’ve all turned out blue. AND THE WEDDING’S NEXT WEEK!” so we work very hard to ensure this doesn’t happen.  Still there are a surprising number of ways in which we can get this wrong including wrong seed being supplied or sown, a mix up during transplanting and we never quite know what happens once our plants are sitting in a retail nursery.
Anyway in this instance I think we’re safe, whatever these plants are they don’t sound like anything else that we grow.
I’m not surprised that the plants are growing like Triffids.  Squash is closely related to Pumpkin, more so than Cucumber or Zucchini.  But what’s going on with all these male flowers?  I’ve no idea, if you do please leave me a blog comment.
As I worked through the steps to find out why the fruit is failing to thrive I found this really good web page to describing the symptom and solutions, then lo and behold I discovered that I had written on almost the same subject around this time last year.  Last year the problem was small, round zucchini which I related to blossom end rot in Tomatoes.
I’m pretty confident the issue is the same, a lack of water or inconsistency in the availability of water at critical growth stages upset the availability of Calcium for fruit development.  Calcium is a really important nutrient, right up there with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.  Calcium is usually supplied to soil when we add lime but I think that in this situation the Calcium is available, it’s just that the plants can’t access it.  Anyway I’ve provided a couple of links so you can decide for yourself.
What about the round fruit?  That was the real surprise: same symptom as the zucchini last year.  It turns out that the seed we used toward the end of this current season came from the same source as the earlier batch of zucchini.  Does the Calcium imbalance cause round fruit? Or have we been caught out using old seed?  If you have any ideas, please let me know.
By the way, Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks.  Your Valentine might like a living gift, head down to your nearest garden centre for inspiration.  I’ll provide a few ideas next week.

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