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Marrow, Courgette, Squash, Pumpkin

UK Garden Centre - Information on Marrow, Courgette, Squash and Pumpkin

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Marrows, courgettes, squashes and pumpkins all belong to the gourd section of the cucumber family – fleshy-fruited vegetables which can be grown outdoors. There are no exact definitions for each type and the dividing lines are blurred. Until recently the vegetable marrow – large, oblong and striped, was the dominant member. Overgrown when picked and insipid when cooked, they are still widely used as a boiled vegetable or an edible casing for minced beef or other stuffing. Where space is limited, grow a bush rather than a trailing variety. Courgettes have begun to take over, and these are nothing more than marrows cut at the immature stage – the flesh is firmer and the taste superior. Squashes come in a variety of shapes, colours and flavours – excellent alternatives to the ordinary marrow but unpopular in Britain. Pumpkins are the giants – grown in Britain mainly to win prizes but cultivated for other uses in America.

Seed facts
Soak seed overnight before sowing.
Expected germination time: 5-8 days
Expected yield per plant (Marrows): 4 marrows
Expected yield per plant (Courgettes): 16 courgettes
Life expectancy of stored seed: 6 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: 10-14 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not difficult, if you remember to prepare the soil properly and water regularly.

Soil facts
· A sunny spot protected from strong winds is essential – marrows, squashes etc. are neither hardy nor long suffering.
· The soil must be well drained and rich in humus. Most households will need only a few plants, so prepare a few planting pockets as shown below rather than sowing long rows.

Sowing and Planting
· Dig holes12in (30cm) deep and wide and 48in (120cm) apart for trailing varieties (24in (60cm) apart for bush varieties). Fill the holes with a mixture of compost as rotted manure and soil. Leave a low mound at the top. Sprinkle fertilizer over the surface, and scatter Slug Pellets between the pockets.
· Sow 3 seeds 1in (2.5cm) deep and a few inches apart at the centre of each pocket. Cover with a large jar or cloche to hasten germination. When the first true leaves have appeared thin out to leave the strongest seedling.
· Alternatively you can raise the seedlings indoors, but this method is often less satisfactory. Place a single seed edgeways ½ in (1cm) deep in seed compost in a 3in (7cm) peat pot. Keep at a minimum of 65 °F (18°C) until germination – gradually harden off seedlings before planting in pockets outdoors.

Calendar
· Sow outdoors in late May or early June. In the Midlands and northern areas cover the seedlings with cloches if you can for a few weeks. The first courgettes will be ready in July.
· For an earlier crop sow seeds under glass in late April. Plant out the seedlings in early June when the danger of frost has passed.
· Cutting time is usually from mid July to mid October; sometimes to the end of October.

Looking after the crop
· Pinch out the tips of the main shoots of trailing varieties when they reach 2ft (60cm) long. Renew Slug Pellets at the first signs of damage.
· Keep the soil moist – water copiously around the plants, not over them. Syringe lightly in dry weather.
· Place black polythene or a mulch around the plants in summer before fruit formation.
· If the weather is cold or it is early in the season, fertilize female flowers (tiny marrow behind petals) with a male flower (thin stalk behind petals). Remove a mature male flower on a dry day, fold back petals and push gently into a female flower.
· Once the fruits start to swell feed every 14 days with Instant Bio or a tomato fertilizer. Limit pumpkins to 2 fruits per plant. Keep marrows on a piece of tile or glass to prevent rotting and slug attack.

Harvesting
· Remove the fruits for immediate use when they are still quite small – courgettes 4in (10cm), marrows 8-10in (20-25cm) long. Push your thumbnail into the surface near the stalk – if it goes in quite easily then the marrow is at the right stage for summer picking. Continual cropping is essential to prolong fruiting. Take care – cut marrows where they lie, then lift them away.
· For pumpkins, winter squashes and marrows for winter storage, allow the fruits to mature on the plants and remove before frosts. Store in a cool room indoors – they should keep until Christmas.

Varieties
Marrow varieties
These varieties include all the traditional vegetable marrow shapes which are used for summer cooking and winter storage.
Long Green Trailing: Large and cylindrical with pale stripes. This is the one to grow to impress the neighbours or win prizes at the show.
Long White Trailing: Another very long marrow, pale-skinned with excellent storage properties.
Green Bush: Perhaps the best all-rounder – you can cut the small fruits as courgettes and let a few mature in late summer to produce striped green marrows.
Early Gem: One of the F1 hybrid marrows which are now available. Early Gem, Zebra Cross, Emerald Cross and Clarita are claimed to be earlier and more prolific than standard varieties.

Courgette varieties
These varieties are compact bush marrows which are grown exclusively for their immature fruits. They produce many small fruits over a long period provided you keep cutting them.
Zucchini: The most popular courgette variety – dark green fruits are produced in profusion. Serve raw in salad or cooked as a hot vegetable.
Golden Zucchini: Until recently the standard yellow courgette. The creamy flesh has a good flavour.
Gold Rush: This yellow variety has replaced Golden Zucchini in some of the major catalogues because it is earlier cropping.
Aristocrat: One of the newer F1 hybrid green courgettes – others are Diamond and Onyx. Their claim to fame is earliness plus high productivity.

Squash varieties
The summer squashes are non-standard shaped marrows with soft skins and pale, soft flesh. The winter squashes have a hard rind and fibrous, orange flesh.
Custard Marrow (summer): This is the Patty Pan Squash of America – scalloped-edges, flat fruits which should be fried or boiled like courgettes. Both white and yellow varieties are available.
Scallopini (summer): Ball-shaped and scalloped-edged, these green fruits should be cut when 3in (7cm) across. Treat as courgettes.
Vegetable Spaghetti (summer): An excellent novelty – boil for 25 minutes and cut in half. Remove seeds and then scrape out spaghetti-like strands with a fork. Home-grown spaghetti!
Table Ace (winter): The winter squashes are not popular, but you will find several if you search through the catalogues – Table Ace, Melon Squash, Butternut, Acorn and Golden Delicious. The problem is that out season is a little too short and often too cool to ensure perfection. Still well worth the effort in southern districts.

Pumpkin varieties
These varieties include the pumpkin-shaped edible gourds – thick-skinned, very large and grown to maturity on the plant.
Hundredweight: Until recently this was the variety grown to produce enormous fruits which lived up to the promise of the name. Mammoth is another popular variety which has accompanied Hundredweight on countless show benches.
Atlantic Giant: This world-beater has arrived from America to make Hundredweight and Mammoth seem like lightweights. You cannot hope to match the 500lb (227kg) record set over there.

Troubles
See Cucumber, outdoor.


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