FOR mere mortals, extreme measures are not possible to provide the optimum growing conditions for plants which do not like chill conditions.
You just have to let them get on with as best they can.
Squash are very susceptible to having growth checked by chill evenings — but no such problem for Susan Cleave’s zuchetta serpente di Sicilia — serpent of Sicily.
I have seen these fascinating cucuzzis in Italian markets but not yet grown them. However, I might be inspired by Susan’s success in her Bembridge Beach Road garden.
She bought a packet from Seeds of Italy and soon the vine and then the serpent-like fruit were snaking all over her patch. At the last count, the biggest was 52ins long and growing steadily despite less than ideal conditions.
Cucuzzi are actually gourds, having white flowers rather than yellow like squash, but are grown and eaten like a summer squash.
Seeds of Italy said fruit can grow up to 3ft long, but — bad news for Susan — it tastes best when picked young at no more than 12ins.
This vigorous grower can produce vines easily running to 25ft and the pinched-out growing tips can be eaten too — sauteed in olive oil they are very tasty, so I am told.
The seeds should be planted like a butternut on south-facing hillocks.
My butternuts were a disaster this year and my special giant pumpkins did not even get out of the starting block although, looking around the Sandlands allotments, others have not been so afflicted by temperature drops, including Michael Shaw-Yates, who proudly showed off a particularly fine squash.
My first and second attempts at a Thompson & Morgan Atlantic giant both rotted out and there was no third time lucky because it was then too late in the season.
No such worries for champion pumpkin-growing twins, Ian and Stuart Paton, of Southampton.
This year, they had four pumpkin ‘babies’, which have been piling on a massive 60lb — or 4st — a day. The twins are well on the way to giving their record-breaking 160-stone pumpkin of last year a run for its money. But the water and electricity bills are, literally, going through the glasshouse roof to keep the pumpkins hydrated and warm.
For the first time this year, the growing pumpkins are being kept at a constant 18C, even throughout the night.
It seems to be working as the rapidly expanding pumpkins are ten per cent ahead of last year’s winner with a circumference of 19ft at the same time as last year.
However, size isn’t everything as one false move and the pumpkin skin can split making it ineligible for the weigh in.
The official weigh in is on Saturday, October 7, at the Royal Victoria Country Park, Southampton, where there is the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival and Scarecrow Avenue. For the first time, the competition will include the Tomato Gigantomo weigh in.
Pumpkin growing really is everything to the dedicated pumpkin-growing twins and the ultimate accolade has been bestowed on Ian Paton.
He has been made president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, a world-renowned organisation.