The squash that swallowed my community garden plot
It's been said (and my experience confirms) that vegetables grow in two stages. First, they creep, seeming to grow slowly above ground, though I suspect that's because they are developing their root systems underground. And then they leap, seeming to take off with rapid growth of leaves, stems, and (where applicable) fruits.
Admittedly, I haven't been as attentive to my community garden plot lately. My excuses have mostly centered around a whiny "it's too hot." Besides, most of what I planted in that bed are pretty well heat- and drought-tolerant. And now, the cushaw squash that seemed to not be doing much of anything just a couple of weeks ago has overgrown its trellis and has spread all over the place...
Along the fence...
And in the garden path, on the complete opposite side of the bed where the cushaw was planted.
Lesson learned: if you're going to attempt to grow cushaws in a small garden, you need a *really* big trellis. And I really should have been more attentive to training the vines to the trellis. Also, I planted them too densely. As I wrote last week about overcrowding my broccoli this spring, I planted a total of 4 cushaw, 1 foot apart, across the 4-foot wide bed. The Square Foot Gardening recommendation for vining squashes grown on a trellis is 2 feet of space between plants. Given how large these vines have grown, I probably could have been just fine with just a single vine centered on the trellis.
Like most winter squash, you have options for how to harvest cushaw. First, you can harvest while immature and tender to cook it as you would summer squash. Or you can wait until it's ripe and forms a toughened skin for winter squash that will keep for months if stored in a cool and dry place. The seeds of the mature squash are edible and make a delicious snack (or garnish for soups, stews, and salads) when roasted. I picked a couple that were immature for use in squash tacos and mixed summer vegetable soup.
Two cushaws at different stages of growth, both still immature and tender. The taste was mild, like zucchini. And that's enough squash right there to feed 10 people...I told you I overplanted!
One word of caution when harvesting squash or tending to the vines: wear gloves and long sleeves. The bristly hairs on the leaves and stems can cause an itchy rash. And don't be alarmed if you see ants patrolling the vines as they're just getting a meal from the extrafloral nectaries (and defending your plants from pests).