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I have two 8x4 raised beds that I grow various vegetables in, alternating tomatoes in one or the other with the other being squash, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, and a few other vegetables.

This year, my squash and zucchini didn't really work out. Cucumbers were amazing, but I got only a couple of small zucchini and one or two small squash, no pumpkins. I had a ton of male flowers, but nearly no female flowers (none on the two Pumpkin plants, who constantly had 5-6 male flowers each, and one or two at the most on each squash). (I seem to always have either the Cucumbers succeed, or the Zucchini/squash, never both; I assume it's something related to how they like the soil. Sigh.)

My guess is I overshot on nitrogen in the soil, from what I've read; I tend to amend a fair amount of mushroom compost in each year, and perhaps I put too much in. (I'm mostly organic, I don't tend to use any -icides or fertilizer other than compost). From what I've read, too much nitrogen leads to only male flowers.

What can I do now (in the fall) to make it so the soil is a better balance next year? Will it likely be better simply by using up the nitrogen to grow this year, and I simply can amend less or no compost? Or is there something I can do at this point to help it out, that's ideal to do in the fall?

(Of course, I'm going to swap beds next year, but I tend to treat both beds the same, so I'm assuming the tomato soil will similarly be high-nitrogen, unless tomatoes and peppers eat up a lot more nitrogen than squash/peas/cucumbers).

If it's relevant, the beds are 8x4 feet, with probably 1-1.5 feet of soil depth, and I tend to add about six bags of compost each - 1.5 cu ft bags, roughly - every year.

  • Before taking any action, get a soil test for each bed so that you know exactly what you're dealing with. Was your weather very hot this season? I've read that heat stress can affect whether female flowers occur, although this is anecdotal - no scientific studies that I could find. Interestingly, I did find a couple of posts where people who used mushroom compost also had male-only cucurbits, so there maybe something in that compost causing your issues. Finally - how were your tomatoes? Too much nitrogen there will decrease yield (huge vines, no fruits). If tomatoes were OK, then N may be OK. – Jurp Oct 21 at 12:28
  • Hmm, tomatoes were okay but late. We had a super late frost so didn’t get plants in the ground until late May, though, so no surprise they were late (late July). – Joe Oct 21 at 12:31
  • In 2019, I had a poor cantaloupe harvest and basically no cucumbers due to poor female flower production on both types. We had a cool summer that year (maybe three days above 90), which is what I attributed the bad season on. This year we had many days over 90 and a great harvest of both types. I grew the same cuke variety both years (different melons, though). So - if you had a late frost, was your summer cool too? – Jurp Oct 21 at 12:52
  • No, actually my summer was pretty warm and dry - we had to water a lot more than usual. I'm still not sure why the cucumbers were successful and the squash/zucchini weren't, though; you seem to be grouping them in one as if they'll all succeed or fail from the same circumstances? – Joe Oct 21 at 20:52
  • Typically, all cucurbits will react the same to environmental conditions (including soil fertility and number/effectiveness of bees in the garden). I find it interesting that your cukes were great and your squash not-great. Have you planted this squash variety before? It took me several summers to hit on a cuke variety that worked for me (and my melons were ok to so-so during that time) - that's the reason for this question about the variety of squash planted. – Jurp Oct 21 at 22:58
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I had a similar problem with squash this year. In my case the problem was a dry early summer when insects, mostly striped cucumber beetles, attacked the young leaves. As a result the plants were never able to achieve a decent size and start producing female flowers until it was almost too late for any fruit to mature. This year after re-sowing three times I had six fruits where I normally have about 200. This despite my best efforts to insert well germinated seed into rich hills and provide water. Too many beetles which left the leaves skeletonized.

Keep a close eye on your young plants and watch how the leaves develop. It's a critical stage. My strategy for next year will be to ignore all the old garden tales about not transplanting squash from pots and raise good seedlings in pots in a protected area and only plant out once they have reached a decent size. By that time the beetles will not be numerous enough to prevent the seedlings from taking off.

As for compost, the more the merrier.

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  • Thanks for the suggestion; I didn't have a bug problem this year, as far as I can tell, although one of my poor plants did suffer from a child-mowing-the-lawn problem. :) Otherwise the plants were beautiful - just only male flowers.... – Joe Oct 22 at 17:03
  • @Colin Beckingham - I've had excellent success using a pot made from cow patties for all my cucurbits. The pots hold up well enough after I've planted the seeds indoors until final transplant and don't have the drawback of actually wicking moisture out of the soil that you see with coir pots and some peat pots. I highly recommend them! – Jurp Oct 22 at 22:34

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