reprinted from Cyclopedia of American Agriculture by L.H. Bailey 1902
SQUASH is a name adapted from an American Indian word, and is applied in an indefinite way to various plants of the genus Cucurbita. The application of the name does not conform to the specific lines of the plants. What are called summer Squashes are mostly varieties of Cucurbita Pepo. The winter Squashes are either C. maxima or C. moschata, chiefly the former. If the name Squash belongs to one species more than to another, this species is probably C. maxima.
Squashes and pumpkins are very easy plants to grow, provided they are given a warm and quick soil. They are long-season plants, and therefore in the North they are very likely to be caught by frosts before the full crop has matured, unless the plants are started early and make a rapid and continuous growth early in the season. In hard, rough clay lands the plants do not get a foothold early enough to allow them to mature the crop. On such lands it is impossible, also, to plant the seeds early. As a consequence, nearly all Squashes are grown on soils of a loose and relatively light character. Sandy lands or sandy loams are preferred. On very rich bottom-lands the plants often thrive remarkably well, but there is danger that the plants may run too much to vine, particularly true when the soil has too much available nitrogen. In order that the plants shall start quickly, it is necessary that the soil be in excellent tilth. It is customary, with many large growers, to apply a little commercial fertilizer to the hills in order to give the plants a start. A fertilizer somewhat strong in nitrogen may answer this purpose very well; but care must be taken not to use nitrogen too late in the season, else the plants will continue to grow over-vigorously rather than to set fruit.
Cultural groups of Squashes are of two general kinds, the bush varieties and the long-running varieties. The bush varieties are usually early. The vines run very little, or not at all. The various summer Squashes belong to this category, and most of them are varieties of Cucurbita Pepo. The hills of bush varieties are usually planted as close together as 4 x 4 feet. On high-priced land they are often planted 3 x 4 feet. The long-running varieties comprise the fall and winter types; and to this category may also be referred, for cultural purposes, the common field pumpkins. There is much difference between the varieties as to length of vine. On strong soils, some varieties will run 15 – 20 feet, and from 8 – 12 feet apart each way. Sometimes they are planted in cornfields, and they are allowed to occupy the ground after tillage for the corn is completed.
For general field conditions, the seeds of Squashes are usually planted in hills where the plants are to stand. If the land is mellow and rich, these hills are nothing more than a bit of ground 12 – 18 inches across, which has been freshly hoed or spaded and leveled off. On this hill, from six to ten seeds are dropped, and they are covered an inch or less in depth. In order to provide the seeds with moisture, the earth is usually firmed with the hoe. When the very best results are desired, particularly for the home garden, hills may be prepared by digging out a bushel of soil and filling the place with rich earth and fine manure. It is expected that not more than three to five of the plants will finally be left to each hill; but there are many contingencies to be considered. The young plants may be taken off by cutworms or by other insects, or they may be caught by frost.
If it is necessary to start the plants in advance of the season, the seeds may be planted in pots or boxes in a forcing-house or hotbed about three weeks before it is time to set them in the field. If the seeds are started much earlier than this, the plants are likely to get too large and to become stunted. When set in the field, the root should fill the pot or box so that the earth is held in a compact ball, and the plant should be fresh, green and stocky, Plants that become stunted and develop one or two flowers when they are in the box are usually of little use. Sometimes seeds are planted directly in the field in forcing hills, and when the plants are established and the season is settled the protecting box is removed and the plants stand in their permanent positions.
A good Squash vine should produce two or three first class fruits; if, however, one flower sets very early in the season, the vine may devote most of its energies to the perfection of that single fruit and not set many others, or may set them too late in the season to allow them to mature. If it is desired, therefore, that the plants shall produce more than one fruit, it is advisable to pick off the first fruit, providing it sets long in advance of the appearance of other pistillate flowers. These remarks apply particularly to winter squashes in northern regions. With small varieties and under best conditions, as many as a half-dozen fruits may be got from a single vine, and in some cases this number may be exceeded. Squash vines tend to root at the joints; but under general conditions this should be prevented, because it tends to prolong the growing season of the vine. It is usually well, therefore, to lift the joints occasionally when the hoeing is done, although the vine should not be moved or disturbed. This precaution applies particularly in the short-season climates of the North, where every effort must be made to enable the plant to set its fruit early in the season and to complete its growth before fall.
There are several enemies and diseases of the squash. Perhaps the most serious is the striped cucumber beetle, which destroys the tender young plants. The insects also are likely to appear in great numbers and to ruin the plants even whilst they are getting their fill of arsenic. If the beetles are abundant in the neighborhood, it is best to start a few plants very early and to plant them about the field in order to attract the early crop of bugs, thereby making it possible to destroy them. From these early plants the bugs may be handpicked, or they may be killed with very heavy applications of arsenites, – applications so strong that they may even injure the plants. Sometimes the hills of Squashes are covered with wire gauze or mosquito netting that is held above the earth by means of hoops stuck into the ground. This affords a good protection from insects that arrive from the outside, providing the edges are thoroughly covered with earth so that the insects cannot crawl under; but if the insects should come from the ground beneath the covers they will destroy the plants, not being able to escape. The Squash bug or stinkbug may be handled in the same way as the striped cucumber beetle. This insect, however, remains throughout the season and, in many cases, it is necessary to resort to hand picking. The insects delight to crawl under chips or pieces of board at night, and this fact may be utilized in catching them. The mildews of Squashes may be kept in check with more or less certainty by the use of Bordeaux mixture or ammoniacal carbonate of copper.
The varieties of pumpkins and Squashes are numerous, and it is difficult to keep them pure if various kinds are grown together. However, the true Squashes (Cucurbita maxima) do not hybridize with the true pumpkin species (Cucurbita Pepo). There need be no fear, therefore, of mixing between the Crookneck or Scallop Squashes and the varieties of Hubbard or Marrow types. The summer or bush Squashes are of three general classes: the Crooknecks, the Scallop or Pattypan varieties, and the Pineapple or oblong-conical varieties. All these are forms of C. Pepo. The fall and winter varieties may be thrown into several groups: the true field pumpkin, of which the Connecticut Field is the leading representative, being the one that is commonly used for stock and for pies; the Canada Crookneck or Cushaw types, which are varieties of C. moschata; the Marrow and Marblehead types, which are the leading winter Squashes and are varieties of the C. maxima; the Turban Squashes, which have a “Squash within a Squash” and are also varieties of C. maxima. The mammoth pumpkins or Squashes which are sometimes grown for exhibition and which may weigh two to three hundred pounds, are forms of C. maxima.
Thoroughly sound and mature Squashes can be kept until the holidays, and even longer, if stored in a room that is heated to 20 degrees above freezing. If the Squashes are not carefully handled the inside of the fruit is likely to crack. Squashes that have been shipped by rail seldom keep well. The philosophy of keeping a winter Squash is to prevent the access of germs (avoid all bruises and creaks and allow the end of the stem to dry up), and then to keep the air dry and fairly warm. The fruits are usually stored on shelves in a heated shed or outhouse. The following advice is given for this occasion by W.W. Rawson: “Cut the Squashes just before they are thoroughly ripe. Be careful not to start the stem in the Squash. Lay them on the ground one deep and let them dry in the sun two or three days before bringing to the building. Handle very carefully when putting in, and be sure that the wagon in which they are carried has springs. Put them two deep on shelves in a building. This should be done on a cool, dry day. If the weather continues cool and dry, keep them well aired by day; but if damp weather comes build a small fire in the stove in order to dry out the green stems. Keep the temperature about 50 degrees and air well in dry weather. The Squashes may need picking over about Christmas if put in the building about October 1; handle very carefully when picking over. Fifty tons can be kept in a single building with a small fire. Do not let them freeze, but if temperature goes down to 40 degrees at times it will do no harm; nor should it be allowed to go as high as 70 degrees. The Hubbard Squash keeps best and longest and does not shrink in weight as much as other kinds, but any of them will shrink 20 per cent if kept until January 1.