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  • Writer's pictureSofias Country Gardens

Little Gem squash

Some years ago a friend of mine gave me Little Gem squash seeds to try out, and much to my delight they were beautiful so two years in a row I grew a jungle of them. Then, as I could't find these beauties in the shop, I tried out some other varieties. But come this spring as I was tidying out my seed drawer I happened to find a left over packet and decided to see if there still was life in the seeds. We all do that, don't we, forget leftover seeds and find them years later when the expiry date for germination has passed. Mostly it is a fools errand to try to sow them, but sometimes time has no difference and they are still perfectly viable. So it was this year, and I'm so happy I gave them a chance as it turned out really well! Out of seven seeds I got five perfectly riotous plants, and that is enough to keep a constant production of squash going all summer.

Gem squash need warmth to germinate and grow well, so I sow the seeds indoors and plant them outside when summer has arrived and it is steadily +15 °C and over. This summer we had a long heatwave, and they definitely prefer it to cold and rainy weather! They like to bask in the sunshine, so are much better in full sun than partial shade where they will be prone to mildew. The same goes for when the leaves are constantly exposed to wet conditions like they would be during a rainy summer; mildew will then also be a problem. They prefer a well drained but rich soil, and do need some extra oomph by way of adding well rotted manure to the bed. Alternately, you can feed them with extra organic liquid feeds high in potassium, like you might do with cucumbers. I plant them 70 cm - 1 meter appart and mulch the area between the plants with heavy compost, but as the plants make long tendrils with lots of leaves this is not strictly necessary as the leaves will make good ground cover once the plants are a bit bigger. I'm just a lazy gardener, and prefer to weed as little as possible, so covering the ground when planting out helps keep the soil weed free and moist. As I practice crop rotation and companion planting, I place them in the same raised bed as the potato and sweet corn. They do like their water, and if you forget to water them they will tell you - the leaves go floppy and they look like they are dying with all the drama of an opera singer! Still, they are amazingly tough and as soon as you cater to their needs they perk right up and give a bumper harvest.

The gem squash are funny in that although the round vegetables all look the same, some of them are soft and supple while some have really hard skin and are almost difficult to cut through. With the hard ones, I simply cut them in halves and scoop out the seeds, put them on a baking tray with a knob of butter and bake them in the oven on 170 °C for half an hour. The shell acts as a the perfect bowl, and once they are ready the soft flesh is easily scooped out. I season with more butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and then we eat them just like that - squash mash served steaming hot as a side dish. The softer ones are easily grated and made into Zucchini fritters according to the same recipe used for zucchinis. I find that the taste of gem squash is less bland and a bit more earthy - almost umami - taste than zucchini, which is why I will use gem squash for mash and zucchini for soup.

Some people like to grow the little gem squash up along a-formed trellises to avoid the fruit rotting against the ground or spreading their long tendrils out too far. Personally I just let them get on with it and spread out along the feet of the sweetcorn and all over the paths between the raised beds, as I like a little anarchy in my garden. I harvest them when they are a bit bigger than tennis balls, and this year I will try to save some seeds for next growing season. Hopefully it will work out, and I get more of these beauties next year.

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