Growing Squash in Containers: Green Striped Cushaw
Learning How to Grow Squash is Easy
Growing squash in containers, or small defined areas, came easy for my friend MJ. One morning she woke up and saw a splattered squash on the street. Looking directly above the crime scene in her two-story loquat tree hung three similar shaped fruits. She followed the vine which led her 20 feet to her arbor built next to her compost bin. There she had been composting her niece’s rabbit droppings, which had sprouted an unassuming squash-like vine which now spanned thirty plus feet. Waiting a few more days she harvested the three squash which weighed close to 15 pounds each.
The squashes turned out to be green striped cushaw (Cucurbita mixta). MJ happily ate and shared raw, cooked, stewed and canned. After eating the meat and seeds of the first one, she realized she hit it big and saved the seeds, which is how I grew my first green striped cushaws last summer.
How to Grow Squash
Deciding when to plant squash and where is as important as choosing what variety is appropriate, not only in your climate, but microclimate. With an oblong shape, crooked necks and bulbous bottoms, the cushaw vines are vigorous and produce well here in the South. The skin is light green with mottled green stripes. The most attractive characteristic of the cushaw is the plant is heat tolerant and resistant to the squash vine borer. Other squash and pumpkin that are not protected with pesticides, often succumb to the vine borer. This species of squash allows me to maintain being organic and worry-free. Cushaw squash is believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica several thousand years B.C.E.
Growing squash in containers, especially summer and bush varieties, is easy. A well-fertilized, wide-mouthed 5-gallon bucket or pot can handle one or two zucchinis or one cushaw. Vining varieties will benefit from a sturdy trellis or arbor. Squash thrive in warm temperatures with full sun and steady moisture. A soil with a large amount of organic matter (well-decomposed manure and compost) will provide enough nutrients for the growing season. While squash can grow in soil with a pH of 5.5-7.5, 6.0-6.7 is ideal.
How to Plant Squash
Directly sowing from spring to mid-summer is the preferred method of planting squash, since transplanting can disturb the roots which most cucurbits do not handle well. Sow the seeds 18 to 30 inches apart and one inch deep. Sowing in the mid-summer will troubleshoot some problems such as common pests or diseases popular with a spring planting.
After directly sowing my seeds into an ornamental bed, my hope was that they would spill over onto the unused lawn. Instead, they acted like their parent and sought out my 15 foot tall Feijoa tree. The vine grew energetically through the summer then cascaded back down to the ground where it grew leaves close together. The flowers, which are palatable for humans, were fed to my bearded dragon, cockatoo and backyard chickens. Flowers for human consumption can be stuffed and fried.
In the end I harvested two fruits, one off of each vine, and I couldn’t be happier. Getting out the bathroom scale, one fruit weighed 3 pounds and the other weighed 10. It’s as if I got 13 pounds of squash for three minutes of work. I have no doubt that I could have gotten a dozen squash if I had not removed so many flowers.
Companion planting for a cushaw is much like other squash including corn and beans, which help balance the nutrients in the soil. Daikon radishes and nasturtiums, an edible flowering vine, have also been noted for growing well with the squash. Both of these companion plants deter pests such as aphids and beetles.
In the Kitchen
So far, the 10 pound fruit, which was cut into half, produced 20 cups of grated squash resulting in six large “zucchini” loafs. The other half of the squash is slowly being cooked with or eaten raw by humans and the skin is being fed raw to my chickens.
Cucurbita mixta and other cucurbits have many health benefits including being an anti-inflammatory. The beta carotene in the meat and seeds may help with arthritis. The large amounts of vitamins A, C, E and zinc may also aid in keeping your skin healthy by stimulating new cell growth and reducing bacteria that causes acne.
I have read that it both stores well and that it does not store well. It reminds me so much of a standard zucchini that I would assume it does not hold up well for too long. The average fruits are 10 to 20 pounds, with a length of 12 to 18 inches. The flesh is yellow, sweet and mild. I would highly recommend growing this squash. It takes on average of 95 days to go from seed to fruit. Those living in northern states could plant it in spring, after the danger of frost. If you do not have access to MJ’s niece’s rabbit droppings, high quality seeds are available at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Growing squash in containers allows flexibility for those who want this summer staple but lack the space. What is your favorite squash variety to grow? Let us know in the comments below.