Summer Squashes : Versatile and Tasty Treats!

Squash are prolific producers under the right conditions. This article will cover all aspects of planting, feeding, and harvesting common garden squash.

Squash are delicious and healthy additions to the home garden. There are two main types of squash-winter squash: Hubbard, Turban and Acorn being the best known, and the summer squashes: Crookneck, patty or scallop squash and zucchini. Their delicate sweet flavor needs only fresh butter, sea salt and cracked black pepper to make a sublime side dish for hot summer nights.

All squash are undemanding in terms of soil needs, but they do benefit from amending with compost, manure and phosphate. Planting begins after the last frost, when the soil is thoroughly warmed. The seeds are best planted in “hills” ( slight mounds of soil, around 3″ tall, with a shallow basin in the center.) 3-4 seeds are placed around the “basin” and covered with soil, about a 1/2-1″ deep. I use a watering can to avoid displacing the soil or disturbing the small mounds. These mounds should be placed 2-3′ apart, as squash plants spread widely.

Once the seedlings appear, they can be thinned to the 2 best seedlings per hill. Plant only as much as you can freeze, eat or give away safely. Zucchini and crookneck in particular are heavy producers. There are two types of vining squash: inderminate and determinate. The indeterminate type will spread vigorously sprawling across the ground. They are repeat bloomers, and produce new squash throughout the season. Determinate types stay compact and bushy making them ideal for small gardens or containers. However they only produce one, two at most crops from each bush.

Squash foliage, like cucumber doesn’t like getting wet. Wetting the leaves brings on mildews and leads to loss of cover protection for the growing squash. So watering alongside the hills, or root watering is the best way to avoid the problem.

If you are getting lots of blossoms but no fruit it may be the blossoms aren’t falling off. You can tug gently on a wilted blossom to temove it. The other reason might be you have no pollination. You can hand pollinate using a sterile Q-tip. Simply dip the tip into each plant and place in another.

Blossom end rot is caused by a warm humid climate. Watering deeply early in the morning can help minimise this problem.

Cucumber beetles, nematodes, squash vine borer, aphids, pickleworm and squash bugs are common pests affecting squash. Since this is an edible crop, organic controls should be used. Read labels carefully and consult with any organic associations or the Master gardener in your area for advice.

Summer squash can normally be harvested around 55 days after planting, though some of the newer varieties can reach maturity at 45 days. Winter squashes are slower growing taking 105 days on average to reach maturity. Harvest winter squash only after the fruit is fully developed and the skin has hardened. Pumpkins should be carefully turned to ensure even ripening. A board or clean straw can be placed underneath the pumpkins to prevent rotting from wet ground.

Size at picking is dependent on individual tastes. Don’t leave squash on the vine too long as it gets woody and slows down the growth of new squash.

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