Harvesting winter squash

I grow kabochas yearly. I've had two nemeses:
1. powdery mildew that sets in in July and pretty much kills the plants, eventually.
2. squirrel(s) that attack the fruit. It/they can decimate the crop, destroying a squash-a-day when they get into it, unless the squash are hung high and inaccessible (I try to do this by trellising).
I have had some success controlling the mildew by spraying with a solution of baking soda but eventually the mildew wins out and the leaves become hard and brittle and I assume close to useless in photosynthesis. I've continued to water the plants daily, in any case, in the theory that the squashes will ripen better. I have many squash lieing on the ground, and a squirrel has attacked two of them in the last week or so. I've set out a trap (no success yet this year), plan to take the trapped critter ~6 miles into the hills (a park) and release it. Not sure it won't make its way back, I've heard stories that this is possible. For all I know, the squirrel that's eating my squash this year is the one I released in the park last year...
Well, one question I have is this: Since the plants, for the most part, seem unable or unwilling to produce new growth, at what point can I remove the kabochas from the vines? I understand that they will ripen more (I harvested the bulk of my crop on August 15 last year because a squirrel was attaching them, and although they looked great, a great many of them were not nearly mature and were a disappointment... not deep orange inside and not very sweet).
Is it being on the vine (even a seemingly almost dead vine) that matures them or is it just sitting around, perhaps being in the warm sun? When can I pick them, and if I do pick them before I'd like to (i.e. mid to late October, it does not freeze here), should I leave them outside in the sun (I have a patio table I could leave them on that a squirrel cannot access.
Thanks for any help here!
Dan
Email: dmusicant at sonic dot net
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Dan Musicant said:

It's being on the vine that gives them sweetness, though it is possible for them to 'ripen' (in terms of color) a bit once they are off the vine. I've picked butternuts that still show a bit of green and they will
Are there any signs of life to the vines? I know my squash vines tend to senesce when they set a few fruit, but late in the season will push out some new growth (even a few more doomed flowers). Then it might be best to try to keep them on the vines, until the vines are completely dry and dead.
Could you rig up some protection for the fruit (say, surround them with a cage of chicken wire)?

They should be stored for a while in a bright, warm place to 'cure' before being put in a cool dark place for long-term storage.
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Pat in Plymouth MI

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America since the late '90s demonstrates that a 10% solution of "skim" milk or dairy whey in water, aided by sunlight, controls and sometimes eliminates powdery mildew on a wide range of garden plants. Low fat powdered milk mixed at 15 g (nominally 1/2 oz) per liter (nominally 1 US qt) of water also works. I can attest (anecdotally) that milk spray is more effective than copper or neem oil and at least as effective as sulfur -- and is far less likely to harm plants that any of those.     I'm in Florida where powdery mildew becomes a potentially serious problem anytime after late April, depending on the onset of "summer" rains. I have found -- again, anecdotally -- that "whole" milk seems to interfere with pollination of some garden plants so, if you try it, be sure to stick with low fat or no fat milk or liquid whey.

though, to find the tiny boots, whips and chairs they need. Cats do not make the mistake of relocating the vermin; they just kill them outright and sometimes even eat them. Warning: You must acquire the cats at very young ages in order to teach them to discriminate among squirrels, rabbits and birds as prey and you must also be willing to eliminate those cats that cannot learn the distinction.     My "neighborhood" is still somewhat rural and am far more likely to lose produce to raccoons (they pick young peppers) and to birds (tomatoes and green beans) than to squirrels or to rabbits.
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Derald
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Derald wrote:

have you ever tried a weak vinegar solution?

hmm.

i think we could avoid a lot of bunny damage here if i could convince Ma to mow the little bit of lawn we have left at a higher level so that more clover and plantains would be left for them to graze.
squirrels not a common problem. though we did have one the other day getting a drink from the pond (which to me is really just a water feature and not really an actual live pond). as i don't want them around i used the air-rifle to nudge it along back to the tree line.
bird damage this year that i've noticed has been on the strawberries, and i've got enough that i don't mind sharing. they eat plenty of other bugs so i'm ok if they get something else to eat once in a while too. they need a balanced diet as much as i do.

i've not ever seen damage to the beans or tomatoes from birds. at least not that i can ever recognize. if they are eating whole flowers off a plant (going after bugs?) i wouldn't know as there are too many to keep track of.
do you notice a particular type of bird that is getting the beans?
songbird
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(...mice?), as well as chickadees, take very young (2-3") green beans consistently but not enough to concern me.
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Derald wrote:

i'd start with 20 times water to 1 part 5% vinegar and test it on a few leaves and see if it helps. if no help make it 18 to 1 and wait. keep trying until either the leaves complain or you see beneficial effect. if no beneficial effect then it would be good to know. as i think vinegar is much cheaper than powdered milk.
we have no mildew here on squashes but on other plants and i never bother to spray thinking that nature can sort itself out much faster than i would be able to. if it somehow took off and affected all the important plants i'd have to rethink gardening completely.
as it is, the past week i've noticed a new bug on the one cabbage which turned out to not be a cabbage plant. i've plucked leaves off hoping to keep it from spreading to anything else. since the plant is not what we want and if the problem persists i may just get rid of the whole plant. no need to start a trouble source. no idea yet what the bug is other than it looks like grey aphids. i just smush 'em all and then put the leaves in the bucket for them to bake in the sun.

:)

hmm, not too many bluejays around here (west nile virus has taken a large toll on their population, but also since we do not feed birds they only come about when we have sunflowers ripening, so we should see them starting in a few weeks). we do have the titmice and chickadees. don't see them in the beans often, i see them more along the wooded northern border where we have the fruit bearing bushes (wild fruit of some kind including the honeysuckle which i would not encourage anyone to plant if they were worried about invasive spreading).
songbird
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says...

The only way to avoid a lot(all) of rabbit damage is to exclude them.
The more rabbit food you have, the more rabbits you will attract.
In numbers, you can't count on clover and plantains to draw them away from your desirable plants and vegatables or to satisfy them.
The other way to avoid 'some' rabbit damage is to have a predator balance.
Randy, a neighbour's cat was a specialist hunter that kept the rabbits and chipmunks under control. -- Since he left the neighbourhood, the rabbit and chipmunk population has grown to nuisance levels with generation piling upon generation.
For the rabbits, I will build an exclusion barrier with trap refinements right around our near quarter acre this month because I no longer want the issue this season and it should be in place for next.
I've yet to decide what to do about the chipmunks.
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phorbin wrote:

we have fenced the area where we grow most of the veggies. the areas i'm writing about are those outside the fenced gardens. where i plant all sorts of things and see what happens and try different things.

within some limit as there are only so many rabbits around. the hawks and feral cats eat some. if i see too many at one time i'll break out the air-rifle (i hate to do it) and

even if i can decoy them a little bit then that takes the pressure off certain plantings. it's not a all or nothing situation and never has been when it comes to these outside gardens. most of what i plant are dry beans or extra strawberry plants, some beets, turnips, onions, green and wax beans, edamame soybeans, squash, cucumbers, melons...
they have tons of alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil available, along with some other spots of red clover and white clover.
what i am hoping to do is to continue increasing the desireable plants in the green manure patch to encourage them to stay back there. perhaps also would help to trim back different areas more often so that there is tender new growth to tempt them...

feral cats and hawks do ok. with more open area they would likely do a bit better, but i'm not quite up to clearing the northern edge which has become over grown.

heh. little buggers are cute and active. most the garden damage in the fenced garden is from these as we did not put down a fine enough mesh to exclude them. if i ever redo or put in new fencing it will include the finer mesh and i'll probably look into a solar electric fence charger/capacitor setup to include at the top of the fine mesh to really keep them out.
i don't mind sharing, but they do a lot of damage that seems frivolous (pick fruits and drop them, pick another one and drop that one too, etc.). and i don't want to keep cats.
as it is i do encourage snakes by keeping nice warm rock piles for them and other habitat and i do know the snakes take a few here or there, but it never seems to be that they get the one that is doing the most damage...
once in a while the air rifle discourages them too, but i have better things to do that to hunt the half dozen chipmunks running around. i'd never get anything else done. like bunnies and raccoons there's always plenty more around to come along once the offenders are removed.
songbird
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songbird wrote:

That's where you are wrong. The number of rabbits is potentially unlimited. The numbers can only be kept in check by death and in practice that's how it happens. Death by lack of food, disease or predators. Lacking these exclude them so that these problems remain outside your domain.

A complete waste of time, once the numbers reach the limit of the 'nice' food they will spread out from there looking for more and keep increasing until they are limited in some way. Get a kelpie.
David
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David Hare-Scott wrote:

well then death by automobile, cat, hawk and me is doing most of the job at present. it is rare for me to see more than three. that is when i know i need to get the air-rifle out, when i see three or more.
what is so strange is that they do not learn. i.e. they could eat all they want if they stay out in the green manure patch and i wouldn't care one bit.

the nice food is also where they can get eaten more frequently by feral cats and hawks...

uhg, no way. i'll be trapping them for food long before i ever have a dog.
songbird
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Which is exactly what's happening around here. -- Where the environment is city, no predators to speak of and I'm surrounded by city people who think they're cute.
Fun figures http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/scary.html
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phorbin wrote:

didn't they introduce falcons in NYC and other larger cities to help deal with pigeons? perhaps introducing falcons/hawks would help with the bunnies and squirrels? encouraging the population by increasing available nesting sites and making the public more aware of the benefits (and a reminder to keep fluffy inside).
you must be living in an area that has feral cats under control.

s-s-something is eating a lot of wabbit!
if you want to see a bit of really interesting video from the Dust Bowl era check out Ken Burns _The Dust Bowl_ and find the part they show the out of control rabbit population (in an area stricken by drought you'd never think they could get so many but that is what happens when all the predators are killed off).
songbird
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says...

London Ontario Canada pop. 300,000 and change.
There are areas of the city that have feral cats. -- London has a trap, neuter release program to keep the numbers down.
Our small cul de sac neighourhood doesn't have any, whilst an area along the river, 4 blocks away has a transient population of ferals.
It may be a matter of us having 2 main traffic arteries nearby. -- Any outdoor cat that's roams around here seems to have a max. lifespan of about 3 years.
Except for the Cooper's hawk that hunts meat on the wing at our neighbour's bird feeders, the hawks are usually seen hunting in the parks.

Be vewy vewy quiet.
Couldn't wesist.
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phorbin wrote:

opening up some areas for them to fly through and putting up some nesting sites might help.

ditto! :)
cheers,
songbird
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prey? What a novel feeding program! A breeding pair of red tailed hawks has nested in the back third of our "lot" for several years. The birds visit a watering station that we maintain back there and have been around long enough to be "familiars" and, although, they occasionally exact their due from the local blue jay population, I certainly wish they'd do more ;-) Perhaps I should install a strategically located feeder....
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Derald
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Derald wrote:

I have seen attempts to encourage raptors in order to reduce rabbits. At a community garden on an island that was mostly bush they put up (at some trouble and expense) a roosting pole, that is a telegraph pole with a cross bar at the top but no wires. There are plenty of kites and hawks in the region but they were not interested in the pole. YMMV
D
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species routinely share the cats' outside food and water and we a wide variety of native berries throughout much of the year. Of the birds, the only ones that could remotely be considered detrimental to the garden are the jays and the variety of food sources doesn't keep them from the tomatoes or the muscadines. I wouldn't anticipate any benefit from providing them yet another food source. Those hawks, though, exist in an entirely different plane and I doubt if they'd take what I'd consider a meaningful number of birds or rabbits regardless of my interference.
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Derald
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phorbin wrote:

At least your forebears didn't deliberately intoduce the pests!
D
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