Thursday, July 12, 2007

Preparing the Squash Patch

Here it is mid July, three weeks after the summer solstice, and I'm just getting around to planting my squash patch. As a market gardener who sells squash at the Nampa, Idaho Farmers' Market, that's quite late. Squash can be planted as early as mid-May here, certainly by the beginning of June; by now I would have squash fruit for sale at market like some of the other produce vendors. But I'm routinely a late squash planter. Last year, like this, I spent much of May and June in Pasadena helping my Mom recover from surgery. Bad timing for a gardener, but mom's recovery is a priority.
There is an advantage to planting late. I miss the first generation of squash bugs. In years when I have planted squash in June, by mid to late July I am battling these hard to control pests with jars of soapy water and dustings of diatomaceous earth, and if I'm not vigilant, the bugs will get the best of my squash plants. But if I plant in mid July, the first generation squash bugs have gone elsewhere and their offspring don't get far enough to bother my late plantings. It's a good tradeoff for missing a few markets early in the season.

This week we got the garden prepared, and next week I'll do the planting. Husband John was in charge of tilling the plot to turn under what remains from last fall's cover crop of alfalfa and the accumulated weeds from spring. Then we were faced with the daunting task of spreading composted manure. Until this year we've relied on our trusty wheelbarrow for this task, but in the July heat, that task is exhausting and timely.

Fortunately our new neighbor, Frank, came to the rescue this year with his new toy: a tractor with a front end loader. It took him a couple of hours Tuesday evening, and no straining muscles, to reduce our compost heaps to the ground, and leave piles around the garden. John raked the piles smooth.

Our composted manure pile comes from a local feedlot, Mann Farms, only a couple of miles west of us. They were the Idaho Family Farm of the year in 2006. I have to acknowledge that they are not organic, hence my produce doesn't qualify for organic certification. But, I prefer to get my manure locally to save the cost of transportation (a substantial cost these days) and to help the local CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) dispose of their wastes in a sustainable and ecologically sound manner. This stuff is great. My garden soil is low in nitrogen, but add a couple of inches of composted manure, and my crops look great. You'll see.

With the manure spread, it was time to water. John is in charge of irrigation, so he has set up several gear-driven popup sprinkler heads along the edge of the garden. We gave everything a thorough soaking yesterday, Wednesday. That will get the weed seeds on the surface germinating over the next few days.
On Sunday or Monday we'll get out the tiller one more time, and till in the compost as well as the sprouting weeds. Then, it will be time to put the seeds in the soil. Watch for more next week!
Time spent on squash patch:
Moving compost to patch: ~2 man hrs.
Raking compost: ~2.5 man hrs.
Total time spent on squash patch: ~4.5 hrs.

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