Posted in Gardening, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing pumpkins and other squash in a no-till garden bed (2017)

Note: I’ll be updating this post regularly until the end of the growing season.

INTRO   I was so excited to have room to plant pumpkins and winter squash in 2017, that I ended up buying 9 different varieties. I definitely bought way too many seeds. When I finally sat down to plan the garden, I realized I would need to add a significantly more space to my garden if I wanted to grow all these vining squash plants. My goal was to grow several varieties of pumpkin for both eating and autumn decoration. I was also hoping to have extras for my chickens (that were only hatchlings when I started this project). The only problem is that I don’t yet have a tiller and I hate digging. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try a no-till garden.

METHODS    In mid-February 2017, I sectioned off an area of lawn that was 17×20 feet. I chose a mostly sunny (evening shade) area of the lawn for my pumpkin patch and fenced it in. I laid plain, brown cardboard down over all the grass (1-2 layers thick). I topped the cardboard with a 1-2” layer of straw (approximately 1.5 straw bales). I soaked everything thoroughly with water once or twice a week. I began using distinct paths in the patch in en effort to somewhat alleviate soil compaction. After all, I was relying on the worms to move in and make the place suitable for growth. In April, I purchased 8 cubic feet of organic compost and made 8 hills, using one cubic foot of compost for each. The hills were concentrated in the sunny, southern half off the pumpkin patch, about 4 feet apart. I started pumpkin seedlings indoors, two weeks before planting out. After the the last frost on May 27,  I planted 4 pumpkin seedlings in each hill and eventually thinned to 2 plants per hill. I added a drip hose for irrigation. I occasionally applied organic Bt spray and/or a neem oil mixture to deter insects. I fertilized weekly with 1-2 T of organic granular 5-5-5 fertilizer per plant. The eight varieties I planted were: (1) Big Max, (2) Jarrahdale, (3) Flat White Boer, (4) Moranga, (5) Musquee de Maroc, (6) Pipian from Tuxpan, (7) Red Warty Thing and, (8) Yuxijiangbinggua.

 

RESULTS   By June 8, they plants were looking small and scraggly. I started noticing a few squash bugs in early June so I vacuumed them up. In early July I started seeing cucumber beetles so I vacuumed those up too. I noticed that the plants in my new pumpkin patch were developing a little bit slower than the pumpkins in my raised beds and they began flowering a few weeks later too.  I trained the vines to go northward to fill in that section of the pumpkin patch. By July 11, there was one pumpkin forming and several female flowers getting ready to bloom on the others. However, the pumpkins in my raised beds have had dozens of male flowers and numerous fruits in various stages of development. By July 17, there are 3 small pumpkins developing and many female flowers that are close to opening. By July 21, I started noticing squash bug and cucumber beetle eggs on the undersides of dozens of leaves. By the 25th, some of the leaves with egg clusters that I missed were now hosts to lots of little creepy squash bug larvae with black legs. I snipped off the affected leaves and disposed of them. There have been several small fruits that died and fell off the vine, which may have been caused by the bugs.

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July 17th, 2017
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August 1st, 2017

 

Progress photos of the various plants in the pumpkin patch:

 

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(1) Progress of Big Max:

 

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(2) Progress of Blue Jarrahdale

 

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(3) Progress of Flat White Boer:

 

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(4) Progress of Moranga:

 

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(5) Progress of Musquee de Maroc:

 

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FUTURE PLANS    The pests aren’t annoying enough to deter me from planting pumpkins again next season. However, I’ve heard you aught to avoid planting pumpkins in the same area for three years to disrupt the life-cyle of pests, such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Pumpkins also drastically deplete the soil of nutrients (and need a ton of water). In the fall when the pumpkins are removed from the patch, I’ll grow a cover crop and confine the chickens to the patch to forage for bugs in the soil to hopefully reduce pest populations and weed seeds, and add fertilizer. I’ll also employ the chickens to help till and fertilize a new bed for next season’s pumpkins.

In the future, I will keep the plants covered as much as possible and I’ll consider relying on hand pollinating them. I’ll plant hills at least 6 to 8 feet apart (or more) because it’s so much easier to inspect the leaves for pests when there is extra room to maneuver. I’ll use considerably more compost to start with.

Author:

Environmental biologist and wannabe homesteader.

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