Mary's Veggie Garden

October 18, 2012

Supporting Hanging Squash: a Right Way, a Wrong Way, and No Way!

Filed under: Squash,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 2:58 pm

Winter squash vines grow vigorously and the vines climb eagerly, crawling up anything in their path: tomato cages, bean teepees, and perimeter fences. The first time my squash climbed the fence I worried. Would the weight of the squash pull the vine off the fence? Would it break the vine? Would the stem break? If a squash crashed to the ground it would be bruised and damaged, not in good condition to store for winter use.

I’d read about supporting squash in the leg of pantyhose, so I gave it a try. It was awkward, but there was no problem with the squash. At harvest I noticed the squash stem was tougher than normal.

Tendrils lash this Tetsukabuto squash firmly to a pepper cage.

The next year I did nothing, just let the squashes hang. They grew well. Tendrils lashed the vines firmly  to the fence. At harvest time I used a knife to cut the stems of squashes on the ground but the hanging squashes required sharp loppers. The stems of hanging squashes were much thicker and more fibrous, quite able to support the hanging weight.

Two Tetsukabuto squashes hang unaided from a pepper cage.

These successful hanging squashes were all ‘smallish’ squashes, Tetsukabuto and various butternuts weighing 2-5 pounds. And the fences were sturdy metal wire.

My Rumbo squashes are a different story. Rumbo fruits are heavy, 12-18 pounds. The first time I had a Rumbo fruit on a fence, it was 6′ high on the deer netting. The weight pulled out some of the fence staples, making that section of the fence a bit shorter. Yes, that was where the deer got inside. The squash was happy in its lofty perch however.

The following year another Rumbo was at the top of the deer netting. I decided it needed support so the fence didn’t pull off. I’ve forgotten how I planned to support it, but the squash broke off as we started the job.

Last year two 10 pound Rumbos set 3′-4′ off the ground. At that height I didn’t worry about the netting pulling off so I did nothing. Both squashes fell off in their early green stages. So clearly, in some circumstances or weather conditions they need support.

Rumbo squash supported on a bucket.

This year Rumbos again set  low on the fence netting. I slid a 6 gallon plastic bucket under one.  It was just tall enough to take most of the weight off the fence. That arrangement worked right up to the moment the squash was stolen.

The second squash was a bit too high for a bucket.  I had a large, heavy-duty tomato cage available. My first thought was to stick the cage prongs into the ground and rest the squash in the top hoop but the vine was so tightly twined around the fence that I could only move the squash a couple of inches so I couldn’t get the cage in place to push it into the ground.  So I flipped the cage upside-down, tied a piece of fabric around the top hoop and slid the squash between the prongs onto the fabric. Lookin’ good!

Rumbo squash resting on a flipped tomato cage.

Three days later the squash was stuck. The weight stretched the fabric and the squash slid into the metal hoop. With its weight supported the squash grew more, bulging out above and below the wire. Immovable!

With a freeze forecast for Friday (10/12) night, I brought home the squash and cage. It will continue ripening in the basement, in the cage. I plan to cut it out minutes before cooking. And I plan to cut the squash, not the cage.

This 17 pound Rumbo squash is firmly wedged into the metal hoop of the tomato cage.

The wire cage might work with something firmer, like a wide board, placed across the top hoop. I should also train Rumbo vines low on the fence so they are easy to reach and can be supported by buckets. I don’t mind having the vines on the fence, it means they are not on top of another crop but these big squashes do need support.

What is your experience with hanging squashes or pumpkin? What varieties hang successfully without support?

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