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ripening winter squashes

ripening winter squashes

So September has come and it’s the final push for my finishing my book. The photographs have all been decided and have gone off to the printers to be set and the text has been ‘jiggled’ about to fit. I’m pretty sure jiggled isn’t the technical term and the whole process required much more skill and expertise than that word conjures up, so apologies to the designer if she’s reading this. But I’m still not particularly au fait with the intricacies of the publishing world so jiggling will have to do. The next couple of weeks involve editing the text and proofreading and just when I think I’m finished I remember that there’s an index to do and I mustn’t forget those all important ‘thank yous’.

I do feel slightly like this summer has passed me by. I have got photographic evidence though that I was outdoors and gardening for some of the time at least. Maybe it’s because despite July and August resembling summer for a change that really has been it – just 2 months of decent weather. It’s all too easy to forget we had the coldest spring for 100 years preceded by such a wet 2012. And now we’re heading towards autumn and I don’t feel ready for it. An Indian summer would be nice, not only to give me a chance to get all manner of jobs done that have fallen by the wayside this year but also to ripen my squashes.

Last year was the first time I had grown squashes. I tried a few onion or uchiki kuri squashes and grew them up a wigwam so they didn’t take up much space. They weren’t a great success bearing in mind the rain and cold that was summer 2012 but a few fruit did mature and it was enough to make me want to grow some more this year. Whilst the harvest may not have been huge, growing them vertically worked well. So I came up with a plan for this year’s squashes which involved some coppiced posts, Wellyman, a mallet and some hops.

Hops and squash screen

Hops and squash screen

The idea was to create a screen at one end of my plot, the end which sticks out into the rest of the allotment. Strict rules on the allotments mean we’re all a little limited with the type of structures we can erect and I didn’t want anything that would shade out any neighbouring plots. A green wall of foliage though would make life much easier over the coming months when I was having photographs taken, blocking out any water butts and blue carrot-growing bins.

I’ve always wanted my plot to look pretty. I like the make do and mend philosophy of allotmenteering but sometimes some plots can end up looking like a scrap yard with all manner of pipes, posts and tubing lying around. I wanted something that wasn’t going to break the bank but which looked rustic and natural at the same time. A bundle of coppiced posts from a local coppicer did the job. Tasked with the job Wellyman was in his element with his tape measure and mallet, working out the correct spacings for the posts. What resulted was a simple criss-cross pattern of posts pushed into the ground at an angle along the length of one of my beds. They were then lashed together with twine. At both ends of the screen I planted a hop. I chose the dwarf variety ‘Golden Tassels’ as it is a little less rampant than it’s taller growing cousins. ‘Golden Tassels’ can reach 3-4 metres, non-dwarf varieties can grow up to twice this. It’s also a pretty ornamental variety with lovely golden leaves. The idea wasn’t to harvest our own hops for beer making purposes but to cut down the long stems with their pretty green cones and dry them for decorating at home. The plan was for the hops to meet somewhere in the middle and then in between there would be squashes trailing up the posts too.

coppice screen

Of course, not everything went quite to plan. It turns out hops are prone to aphids and the cold spring meant I didn’t see my first ladybird until August. As a result one of the hop plants was a little stunted by the aphid infestation that took hold and never really recovered enough to reach its true potential. They’re perennial though so I’ll be prepared next year with my garlic spray at the ready. Despite this I’m happy with the overall effect. Hop number two grew as I had hoped, using the posts to climb upwards. The squash too are doing well. There was a point where I wondered if I was going to get anything from them. There were a lot of male flowers and no fruit to be seen. But I have nine fruits now swelling and ripening in the sun. They were meant to be a variety known as ‘Sweet Dumpling’ a winter squash with a creamy coloured skin and distinctive green stripes. Mine for some reason are lacking the green stripes. I could write a whole post about seeds not turning out to be what they should. Maybe I’ll do that next. I’m sure they’ll taste just as good though, whatever variety they are.