Kitchen Gardening

Planting Squash

Here's a birdproof method for planting squash seeds, as well as melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins.

Newly sprouted yellow squash seedlings are protected birds under a square of chicken wire. A buried flower pot allows direct watering straight to the roots.
Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage

Most people mound up the soil into a “hill” to plant squash and pumpkin seeds, but I do just the opposite. I plant my seeds in a depression, and there’s a reason for that. One year, when I planted my seeds in hills, they sprouted just fine, but then they disappeared. Undeterred, I tried again, and the same thing happened. There were no signs of cutworms or slugs. It was a mystery, one I finally solved.

Somehow, I figured out that birds were descending on the garden and yanking out the baby seedlings, perhaps to get at the seeds still attached. So in a Spy vs. Spy moment straight out of Mad magazine, I devised a low-cost deterrent.

To fend off the birds, I fashioned “shields” from some old chicken wire fencing left over from other projects. I unrolled the fencing, flattened it out, and with a wire cutters sectioned it into 2 ft. square pieces, each large enough to cover the seedlings until they were strong enough to survive on their own.

Instead of hills, I dig shallow holes, and make a small mound at the center of each. Following the spacing instructions on the seed packets. I then plant five to seven seeds in each little mound, again as instructed. To hold each shield in place, I weigh down the corners with bricks or rocks and fill in the gaps at the edges with leaf mulch. When the seedlings start to push through the tops of the shields, I remove the shields  and thin the plants as necessary.

The shields let water and sunlight in but keep birds out, and they are, of course, reusable from year to year. As the plants grow, should watering be necessary, it’s easier to get the water to reach the roots in a depression. Without them, I’d have well-fed birds, but not much squash.

An aid to watering, along with bird protection
This year, I decided to bury flowerpots at the center of the squash plantings, a technique I read about in How to Grow Superb Summer Squash. I haven’t needed to water anything for weeks (this May and June it’s been raining almost every day, or so it seems), but maybe later this summer we’ll have a dry spell, and I’ll be glad I took this extra step. Stay tuned.

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