It seems as though for every triumph in the vegetable garden there is always at least one failure. The same can surely be said about some things in my own vegetable garden this year. One vegetable that I am growing this year is on its way to a very slow death. Some of it was slightly beyond my control, but for the most part I have learned a valuable lesson on what not to do next season.
The vegetable I am talking about is my yellow summer squash. I began this season with ambitious thoughts on how many squash plants I wanted to grow. Last year I grew six yellow summer squash plants, three straightneck and 3 crooked neck, that produced very well. These six plants supplied me with fresh yellow squash all summer. They even produced squash right up to the first frost.
I just knew that if I planted a few more plants this season, I would have a bounty of yellow squash bigger than my freezer could handle. I guess you could say I got greedy, or maybe overzealous, but I had to have a bigger crop of squash in 2009.
I decided I would grow the squash in a different area this year, and would grow nine plants instead of six. The three extra plants should give me about 33% more squash than last year. I planted the nine squash plants in an area that was about 10′ x 10′ thinking it would be plenty of room.
With the abundant rains during the spring and early summer, the plants grew to a very large size, much larger than the previous year. By the time late June came around, that 10′ x 10′ area was a solid sea of green squash leaves. It was like having an aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest. I instantly realized that I had planted too many plants in too small an area. I had a gut feeling I may run into some issues with this, and I was right.
The first problem was accessing the plants in the center of the patch. There was no way to harvest any squash there unless I trampled on one of the side plants. The second issue was that with the plants being overcrowded, I knew it would increase my chances of getting powdery mildew and possible pest infestations.
Unfortunately, I was right about the access problem and about the powdery mildew. I live in coastal Virginia where humidity is high, and this encourages powdery mildew like the wind to a kite. The humidity levels, aided by the frequent evening showers, is a recipe for an invasion of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew has always been an issue in my garden for squashes and cucumbers, but this year was one of the worst I have seen due to the aforementioned conditions.
The above picture was taken on June 26, 2009 and not even a month later that huge canopy of squash leaves is now a desert of desolation. I fought the mildew and a few cucumber beetles as best I could, but I think they may have won. Here is what the squash patch looks like as of July 15, 2009.
It looks better now than it did yesterday. I went into the patch and cut out all the dead, dying, and mildew-covered leaves. There are some new leaves coming up now, so hopefully this will give them more sunlight. Realistically, I can not expect much more squash production because the plant is so stressed that it has more than likely gone into survival mode. Once this happens the plant will shut down production of fruit to reserve resources for survival.
I will continue to treat the plants with a baking soda and dish detergent spray to try and hold down the powdery mildew. I did not see any new blooms on the plants, although I did harvest six squash. The squash are now smaller and fewer than when the plants were at their peak. During their peak I was harvesting about ten to twenty squash a week.
I feel like I got some pretty good production from the squash plants ( to date I have harvested about 60 lbs. of yellow squash), but I hoped their growing season would have been much longer. Having the overcrowding issues is what mainly contributed to the failing squash plants, in my opinion. I know now that I will not grow this many squash in such a small area again. Lessons learned from the squash patch.