Squash or Calabacita

Squash is another vegetable which can be a pleasant addition to your Mexican dishes. The main squash variety used in Mexican dishes is Tatuma. It is a type of summer squash which is round and greenish. It is very tasty and preferred to the common yellow and zucchini types of summer squash. Vines produce an abundance of squash which should be harvested when tennis ball size.

When seeding squash, plant seeds about 1 inch deep. Plant five to six seeds in hills 18 to 48 inches apart on rows 3 to 8 feet apart. Water after planting the seed. After the seeds come up, thin to three squash plants per hill.

When first blooms appear, place 2 tablespoons of garden fertilizer around each hill. Do not let the fertilizer touch the plants. Water the plants after fertilizing.

Squash is easy to grow if it is not attacked by squash bugs, squash vine borers and powdery mildew. However, chances of growing squash in this area of Texas and not being assaulted by these pests are remote.

Squash vine borers devastate most types of squash. Fortunately, the squash most frequently used in Mexican dishes, Tatuma, is not severely affected by borer damage. Just as blooming begins, the reddish, wasp-like moths visit plants and deposit the eggs which hatch into the white borer. In the spring, plants are in the bloom stage before eggs are deposited, so some harvest is enjoyed before the enlarging borer larvae devastate the inside of the vine until it dies. In the fall, seedlings are small when attacked so feeding vine borers kill them faster. Many times, a fall planting of squash will be killed before seedlings are 6 inches tall.

A protective, dome cover made of screen can be placed over squash seedlings to physically keep the moth from depositing eggs until plants are larger. However, plants soon outgrow such devices. Dusting or spraying main stalks with Sevin every 3 days, which has also been recommended, can stimulate spider mite populations. Products containing the active ingredient endosulfan, commonly referred to as Thiodan, are more effective. Endosulfan is sold as Garden Bug Killer and Thiodan Garden Dust.

Since endosulfan is effective for a longer period it is more successful in combating the destructive trio -- squash vine borers, squash bugs and stink bugs -- with weekly applications.

No pesticide is perfect. All should be used as label instructions direct. But the exciting thing about endosulfan is that it offers an opportunity to rid the most damaging of the garden insects without stimulating spider mites.

A white powder may form on the older squash foliage. This is a fungus called powdery mildew. It occurs on older leaves and is controlled with a benomyl (systemic fungicide) fungicide every 10 to 14 days. Rather than trying to control this disease with a fungicide it is best to make succession plantings every 10 days to two weeks so old, diseased plants can be removed as young, healthy plants come into production.

Bloom drop early in the spring is one of the most common concerns about squash. Why do those large, beautiful blooms fall from plants and squash fruit never remain? To begin with, squash plants have male blooms and female blooms. Female blooms can be identified by a small squash fruit attached. All male blooms, which bloom profusely at first, dry up or fall off.

When male and female blooms are both present and female blooms with small fruit attached continue to fall off, a pollination problem exists. Pollination means the transfer of male pollen to the female's stigma. This task usually is accomplished by bees or insects visiting the flowers. If a gardener lacks a source of pollinating insects or continually kills them by spraying insecticides during flight periods, inadequate pollination and fruit drop occur. If insects are a problem during bloom, spray insecticides late in the evening when pollinating insects are less active.

Harvest squash when fruit are small. Always harvest the fruit which is ready so plants will continue producing. Squash should be cut, not pulled, from the vine to prevent plant damage.

Every year during harvest season, many gardeners complain about their squash fruit being odd-colored and often misshapen. These plants have been affected by a virus disease, most often squash mosaic virus or cucumber mosaic virus. This virus is transmitted by insects which have been feeding on other virus-infected squash plants or perhaps some wild plant. Once plants get this disease, nothing can be done. This disease is more severe on late-planted squash or summer-planted squash than it is on an early spring-planted crop. Odd-colored fruit is still good to eat without any change in taste if harvested at the proper stage of maturity which is usually a smaller size. This virus disease eventually kills the plant.