Lifestyle / Home
Old hands at vegetable gardening like to start their baby marrows and patty pans early because by February the heat, rain and pests take their toll. That means that if you haven’t yet sown these veggies, it is time to get planting. Both baby marrows and patty pans are quick summer crops that are rewarding plants for the home gardener to grow, especially beginners, says Marlaen Straathof of Kirchhoffs Seeds.
Seed germinates easily and the first fruit is ready for picking within 65 days from sowing. Young leaves can be eaten as marog and the yellow flowers are edible too. Marlaen advises giving each plant about 1m² of space for growing.
“This is far less than other creeping or trailing squash, which makes it a better option for small vegetable gardens. The yield is regular and prolific so a small family could easily have their needs met by just two plants. The nice thing about these quash is their versatility. They are crunchy when eaten raw and can be cooked in every possible way with other ingredients or as a vegetable on its own.
“Being low in saturated fat and cholesterol these marrows are good for low fat diets although there is a relatively high sodium content. It is a good source of B vitamins as well as dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and minerals.”
Plants do best in full sun, in well composted soil that drains well. Plant seed 7cm deep with two seeds per hole for in-situ planting but one seed per pot. Once the seeds have one true leaf cut off the weaker seedling at ground level rather than pulling it out. Individual plants should be spaced 50cm to 1m apart so leaves dry off quickly after watering or rain, making them less susceptible to mildew.
The first flowers are usually male and will not produce fruit. A female flower has a small swelling at its base, while a male flower does not. Male flowers can be picked for eating and they are the nicest of all the squash flowers. Because of their shallow root system, the plants need plenty of water and are drought sensitive. They will not flower if there is not enough water, which affects the harvest. Grey water can be used.
Water the plants deeply around the base and not from above so the leaves remain dry. A mulch of straw around the plant should help to keep the leaves off the moist soil. Feed twice during the growing season with a potassium rich fertiliser like Vigorosa 5:1:5 and steer clear of a nitrogen rich feed as this produces leaves at the expense of flowers
Pests and diseases
Once the rains arrive watch out for mildew and spray with Margaret Roberts organic fungicide. Aphids and thrips can damage the young fruit. Use an organic spray like Ludwig’s Insect Spray, that contains canola oil that smothers the insects. Grasshoppers and locusts are best removed by hand.
Squash form quickly once the female flower has dropped. Remove the fruit by cutting it off the stem with a sharp knife. Don’t pull it off as you could damage the stem.
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