Pattypan squash (Cucurbita pepo)
Pattypans look like little yellow, green or stripy spaceships and, like baby marrows, these bushy squashes are easy to grow, with a prolific yield. The fruit is so colourful and looks so good on the plant that you have to discipline yourself to pick them! If you have the space, grow both baby marrows and pattypan squashes because a mixture of the two always looks good in a veggie roast or when served raw with a dip. Healthwise they are a good source of magnesium, niacin and vitamins A and C.
Full sun, well-composted soil that drains well, 1 m² of space per plant, regular watering around the base of the plant, and two applications of potassium-rich fertiliser (3:1:5) during the growing season will reap great rewards.
Tip: Don’t make the soil too fertile (by adding manure) as this encourages too much leafy growth at the expense of flowers.
Sow seed directly into the soil or germinate it first in 8 cm pots. The latter is advisable if the soil is still cool. Plants should germinate within 10 days.
Water regularly, but make sure not to overwater in the early stages of growth. This can result in more leaves and less flowers. Once plants start to flower, increase watering if necessary, to at least twice a week in hot and dry conditions.
Good to know
• Driving a stake into the soil next to the stem makes it easier to locate the base of the plant for watering when it becomes large and leafy.
• On either side of the plant, bury old plastic bottles neck down and cut off the bases. Water the plant by filling these.
• Withered fruit can be caused by overwatering or poor drainage.
If plants are growing in sandy or poor soil, sink a large pot or small bucket with holes in the side and bottom into the ground and plant 3-4 pattypans around it. Fill the pot with compost or composted manure and water the plants by filling the pot with water The plants’ roots will seek the water and will absorb nutrients from the compost at the same time.
If seed sown in situ doesn’t germinate, try this method: Dig a hole 5 cm wide and 15-30 cm deep. Mix soil and compost and fill in the hole, but not up to the top,
leaving a hollow. Sow 2-3 seeds into the soil mix, 2.5 cm deep. Water well and cover the hollow with a pane of glass. This keeps the soil warm and it is not necessary to water again until the seed germinates. Keep the strongest seedling and leave the glass in place until the seedling grows up to it. Don’t fill in the hollow with soil. The water will run directly to the roots.
Plants easily succumb to powdery mildew, downy mildew or anthracnose (water spots on the leaves) during the rainy season. Spraying with fungicides is an option, but it is best to start plants as early as possible so that the crop is over before the rains start in earnest. Watering without wetting the leaves helps.
Fruit should be ready for picking within 65 days of germination. Remove the fruit by cutting it off the stem with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors. The more one harvests, the more fruit the plant produces.